Here, New Idea reveals some of the most surprising insights into the monarch’s true character – as disclosed by those who know her best.
The Energetic Queen
At 94 years old, the Queen still has astonishing energy and before lockdown had a calendar filled with activities. In 2019 alone, she undertook 295 engagements.
“I have no idea where she gets her energy from,” the Duchess of Cambridge once said about Her Majesty. Kate added, “To manage all of those elements of your life – from the family, to the work as well as to the national importance of her role – it’s extraordinary. And for so long too – I think it’s really incredible.”
Although she often appears serious during official events, behind the scenes the Queen is known for having a very playful side. Her former protection officer, Richard Griffin, recounted how a group of American tourists approached her when she was walking around Balmoral Castle and asked if she’d ever met the Queen. She replied that she hadn’t, then pointed to Richard and said, “But he has.”
When protesters pelted her with eggs during a New Zealand visit in 1986, she joked about the incident a few days later at a banquet dinner: “I myself prefer my New Zealand eggs for breakfast.”
Although she may be handing an increasing number of duties and attendances to Prince Charles and other younger members of her family, there’s no doubt who sits at the top of the royal tree.
“I still view her more as the Queen than my grandmother,” said her grandson, Prince Harry, who has also said in the past, “You have this huge amount of respect for your boss and I always view her as my boss, but occasionally as a grandmother”.
His brother, Prince William, agrees – there’s never any reason to go against the woman in charge. “As I learned from growing up, you don’t mess with your grandmother,” William said.
While it’s unlikely the Queen has had to change a tyre or a spark plug recently, she could if she needed to. During World War II, a young Elizabeth trained as a driver and mechanic. In a letter written just days after her 19th birthday, Lillibet – as the Queen was called – told a friend how she’d “just finished a mechanics course in the ATS, which I found most interesting”.
She added, “I’ve never worked so hard in my life before, as everything I learned was brand new to me – all the offices of a car and all the intricacies of map reading.”
Always professional and prepared
Sir Kenneth Scott, who was her private secretary for 10 years, has spoken about how seriously Elizabeth always took her work.
“It was a great privilege to watch the Queen at work and to appreciate how dedicated and well organised she is, and how her long experience in the job has helped her to deal with every kind of situation with calm efficiency,” he said.
Meanwhile, former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond offered up a different view of the Queen before she stepped into a public arena.
“The Queen was about to walk into a reception at Buckingham Palace when, behind the closed door, she got her lipstick out of her bag, touched up her lips – without using a mirror – and then nodded for the door to be opened. On duty and ready for action!”
A sentimental grandmother
In 2016, Kate gave a glimpse of the grandmother royal fans rarely get to see. “George is only two-and-a-half and he calls her ‘Gan-Gan’. She always leaves a little gift or something in their room when we go and stay and that just shows her love for her family.”
What’s more, in 2012, Kate Winslet told the Queen how she loved being a mum more than being an actress, to which the royal replied, “Yes. That’s the only job that matters.”
She’s been a professional hostess for years, so it’s probably no surprise to hear the Queen can throw a fantastic party. Husband of fashion designer Carolina Herrera, Reinaldo has been friendly with the royal family for years and talks about how the Queen always makes people feel comfortable at events she hosts.
“She loves receiving guests, and knows how to put people at ease. At Buckingham Palace, she stands at the top of the stairs, welcoming everyone. She is wonderful at mixing old and new friends. The Queen loved dancing to her favourite tunes by Lester Lanin, whose orchestra played at some of her parties.”
The fashion icon
With her brightly coloured wardrobe and impeccable style, the Queen has always been a fashion icon. She wears vibrant colours so she can be easily spotted in a crowd. Her biographer Robert Hardman once quoted her as saying, “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am.”
Princess Eugenie calls her grandmother her own fashion icon, stating her style is “elegant, classic”. She adds, “Lots of my friends say, ‘Oh she’s just the best style person there is, you know, she looks great in her clothes.’ The style is something that is very unique to her.”
A fussy eater
Although her chef Darren McGrady says the Queen isn’t a picky eater, she does have what he calls “specific rules” about her meals. They include no garlic, no spicy foods and little starchy food such as potatoes, pasta or rice.
“The Queen never was a foodie… for the most part she stuck to the same dishes week in, week out,” explained the chef.
Friendly but shy
Paul Burrell, the Queen’s footman and later Princess Diana’s butler, says of the Queen, “I stood beside her and lived with her for 11 years and I can tell you who the Queen is. She’s a good, kind Christian lady.”
Royal author Ingrid Seward describes a more reticent royal. “The Queen is surprisingly shy and finds meeting people she doesn’t know quite an effort. So imagine my surprise when she greeted me as if I was an old and trusted friend. We were at a private party and the Queen spoke to me like a member of her inner circle. She was animated and laughing, telling us about an incident that had happened that day.”
She might be very wealthy, but she’s always careful with her spending. Leftovers from food are often repurposed for the next day, while clothes are worn and reworn.