When the Queen “photobombed” Australian hockey star Jayde Taylor’s selfie at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, people were shocked to see an openly chuckling monarch.
But it’s not the first time she’s shaken conventions for a laugh. Last year, seven-year-old Jessica Fitch broke protocol and asked Her Majesty to pose for a photo with her teddy bear. The Queen (88) happily obliged.
“She is definitely more relaxed,” says former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond. “Camilla has been accepted and there are four generations of the monarchy alive at the same time. The Queen cares very deeply about the integrity of the monarchy and that must make her feel a bit safer.
“She has always had a good sense of humour. She is a great mimic. And if she’s revealing a tiny bit more of her private self, it will be because she simply feels like it. It makes her happy.”
Photographer David Bailey, whose wonderful portrait (taken for the government’s great Britain campaign, pictured right) says, “I’ve always been a huge fan of the Queen. She has very kind eyes with a mischievous glint. I’ve always liked strong women and she is a very strong woman.”
But her humour goes beyond mere mischievousness – she can be downright naughty. Sitting for the artist Lucian Freud, she told him about a commotion at a pheasant shoot. “I was picking up after the guns, as I always do, when a wounded cock pheasant scratched me and drew blood. The detective assumed I’d been shot, threw himself on top of me and began giving me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I consider we got to know each other rather well…”
The painter John Edwards tells of the time when his palette fell face down on the floor. The Queen didn’t miss a beat. “It always falls butter side down, doesn’t it?” she said.
But Annie Leibovitz perhaps didn’t understand her sense of humour when the Queen refused to take off her headwear during a shoot in 2007. “I asked the Queen if she would remove the tiara, suggesting that a less dressy look might be better,” Annie remembers. “And she said, ‘Less dressy! What do you think this is?’”
The Queen is quite the photographer herself in her spare time. Another of her little-known talents is aircraft spotting – by ear. Guests at Windsor, which is on the Heathrow flight path, tell of her announcing “Boeing 747”, “Airbus”, “1-11” as aircraft drown out conversation. She’s right every time.
Her other hobbies are all things equestrian, from the races to hacking out; walking the dogs (corgis at her palaces, Labradors in the country); hunting, shooting, and fishing; and gardening.
Royal writer Mary Killen says, “It is very obvious why the Queen is as happy as she can be on any given day. She takes exercise by walking the corgis for 90 minutes after lunch. She still rides about four times a week. At her age, if you don’t use it, you lose it. She also has a healthy mind in her healthy body – and her religious faith sustains her in every circumstance.”
There’s more to it than that … 1992 was the Queen’s famous annus horribilis – Charles and Diana separated, Anne divorced, Fergie was in the news for all the wrong reasons and Windsor Castle went up in flames. The Queen determined things had to change, so the Way Ahead group of senior royals and advisers was set up.
Its decisions have led to monumental changes to the laws of succession, allowing first-born royal females to have precedence and monarchs to marry Roman Catholics (but not to be one). There have been practical changes too.
Royal observer Alice Thompson says, “The Queen has modernised; she cut her expenses in half; made her finances transparent… Increased the salaries at the bottom and slashed hers at the top.”
The Queen no longer sees herself simply as head of state but as head of the nation. She didn’t announce it, but she has created a new role for the monarch as the people’s granny.She has also now begun to pass the baton, with Prince Charles attending the State Openings of Parliament and all eyes are on the Duke of Cambridge, a future king who calls people “mate” and is nicknamed “the Dude” by Prince Harry.
William is probably the Queen’s greatest achievement, says royal author Robert Lacey. “Who would have thought in the annus horribilis that, 20 years later, you would see Prince William walking down the aisle, effectively being given away by Prince Charles and his stepmother, the former Camilla Parker Bowles? If you had predicted that, you would have been thought crazy.”
By Andrew Mack