The Queen was famous for the twinkle in her eye and wicked sense of humour, as countless people have recalled over the years. Lydia Stangroom and Toby Keel pick out some of the best anecdotes from among the many tributes paid to her.
It’s been several days since the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and the world is still reeling from the shock of such a monumental loss, as we take our tentative first steps with a new monarch and into a different world altogether; one without our figurehead and guiding light of the last 70 years.
Amidst the outpourings of grief and tributes paid to Her late Majesty, there have been moments of laughter as we are reminded of some of the light-hearted and tender moments that were such a part of her long reign. People around the world have been sharing memories, and we’ve taken a look below at some of our favourite from the times when her humour and personality shone through. After all, it was The Queen herself who once declared, ‘let us not take ourselves too seriously’.
‘Have you met The Queen?’
A few months ago during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, former Royal Protection Officer Richard Griffin told Sky News of a priceless encounter he and The Queen shared with some American tourists in Balmoral who were none the wiser as to whom they had met along their walk.
The Queen’s Royal joy at winning £16 on the horses
Everyone who’s ever had a few pounds riding on a horse will feel exactly what Her Majesty was going through in this moment:
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The race in question was the 1991 Derby, with the monarch winning the princely — sorry, Queenly — sum of £16 in the sweep. It’s almost hard to believe that such a gem of a video is genuine, but there is a good reason that cameras were being trained on her in this moment of genuine delight: she was being capture for a documentary called Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen, which aired in 1992.
A bee in your bonnet
Proving that laughter is the key to a long, successful marriage, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip — who were the longest married couple in British Royal history at 73 years — shared a giggle in this now-iconic picture. Rumours flew around social media a year or two ago suggesting that Prince Philip had dressed up in a guard’s uniform to surprise his wife, eliciting the laugh; in fact, Philip wore his Grenadier Guards uniform regularly for review parades, and the two were in fact laughing at a swarm of bees causing chaos at the event at Windsor Castle in 2003.
The Queen’s favourite power tool
The late humourist Frank Muir ended up with a wonderful anecdote after going to tea with The Queen in the 1960s. As reported by Frank’s son, Jamie, in the The Times’s Diary column, the pair ended up talking about the influence of television advertising, with Her Majesty conceding that even she felt its effects. ‘If I had to buy a drill,’ she told Muir, ‘I would buy a Black and Decker.’
As chance would have it Muir happened to meet the managing director of the power tools company not long afterwards, ‘gleefully telling him: “I’ve got you the best slogan that you can never use.”‘
For the love of Corgis
It’s no secret that the Queen had a particular fondness for corgis, owning 30 in her lifetime. Her love affair started aged seven, when her father, the then Duke of York, brought home Dookie, a Pembroke corgi, and thus, her obsession began.
Another corgi, Susan, came into the Queen’s life as an 18th birthday present from her father, then King George VI, and reportedly went with her everywhere — even being smuggled into the train carriage under a rug during The Queen and Prince Philip’s honeymoon.
A long line of Windsor Pembroke corgis descend from Susan, having been bred by the Queen for 14 generations. The Corgis went with Her Majesty everywhere and were often seen in photographs and, more recently, featured in cameo appearances in humorous televised sketches. ‘At Christmas at Sandringham they each had their own stocking, filled by the Queen herself,’ notes Rebecca Searle for the BBC.
‘The most lovely goodbye’
Author and film-maker Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote a lovely piece for The Guardian about the making of the video of The Queen and Paddington Bear sharing afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace, released as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022.
‘The most emotional moment in that encounter with Paddington is when the bear says: “Thank you, Ma’am. For everything.” People will ask: “What everything?” Well, make your own list. But I’m thankful for the way she used the peculiar power of her archaic role to allow us to glimpse, however fleetingly, that we share something good and that we need to defend that.’
‘Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight!’ Nelson Mandela’s incomparable relationship with The Queen
In the dark days of the 1980s, Her Majesty’s anti-apartheid conviction played a subtle but important part in putting pressure on the South African regime, with former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal calling her ‘both an ally and an advocate’ in the fight against racism. And when the new South Africa emerged under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner and the British sovereign developed a warm and happy relationship which lasted many years.
‘They had a very warm friendship,’ Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s private secretary from 1994 to 2013, told Reuters.
‘They shared the sense of duty, the sense of service and a calling that they adhered to throughout their lives, and there was a deep respect between the two of them.’
Mandela even got Her Majesty up on her feet and dancing during a 1996 concert at The Royal Albert Hall, according to journalist-turned-politician Liz Jarvis. ‘No-one could resist the charisma of Nelson Mandela.’
Zelda La Grange also shared some happy memories in her Reuters interview. ‘There are a few anecdotes but what stands out is we were in Buckingham Palace once,’ she said.
‘Approaching the queen, Mr. Mandela had a very wicked sense of humour. So, he walked up to the queen and when he saw her he said: ‘Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight!’ and the queen burst out laughing. I think he was the only person in the world who could comment on the queen’s weight and get away with it,” La Grange added.
‘No-one will know who I am’
The Queen’s down-to-earth modesty impressed Robert Hardman, the journalist and royal biographer who has written several books about Her Majesty, including a very well-received biography of Queen Elizabeth II published in March. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme back in 2012 about one of his earlier works, Our Queen, he said that Her Majesty once announced ‘I can never wear beige, no one will know who I am… This is someone who turned down a set of stamps to mark her 70th birthday, on the grounds that it was a lot of fuss about nothing.’
There’s a thoughtful sentiment behind Her Majesty’s colourful outfits, which were so often shades of fuchsia, vivid greens, blues and lemony-yellow. She knew many people would have waited in crowds to catch a glimpse of her as she passed by, and the best chance people had of spotting her was if she was in an eye-catching colour. She’s famously known to have said, ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’
Perhaps one of the sweetest clips of The Queen in recent years was her reaction as a herd of Jersey and Red Sussex cows are paraded past her as part of her 90th birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle. ‘Look, Cows!’ she can be seen to exclaim to Prince Philip, who sits by her side.
The Queen was a staunch lover of all animals — horses in particular, but cows seemingly always had a special place in her heart as it is reported that a young Princess Elizabeth told her governess in 1933 that ‘when she grows up she wants to marry a farmer and have “lots of cows, horses, dogs and children”.’
‘Good evening, Mr Bond’
In 2012, The Queen delighted viewers in the UK and the world over when she featured in a sketch with James Bond — played by Daniel Craig — to mark the opening of the London Olympic Games. The playful clip, directed by Danny Boyle, follows Bond and Her Majesty leaving Buckingham Palace and making a grand entrance at the Olympic Stadium.
Originally, Boyle’s team — who included Frank Cottrell-Boyce — had thought they’d use a double, but when The Queen heard she asked for a part, and insisted on having a line. ‘Of course I must say something — he’s coming to rescue me,’ she said, according to her dressmaker Angela Kelly.
Viewers let out an audible gasp as a stunt double jumped out of a helicopter hovering overhead and then parachuted into the stadium, followed by a round of applause and loud cheers as the real Queen made her entrance.
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