When I heard about Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, I was browsing shiny new tomes at Foyles' bookstore in London. There was a ‘highlights’ segment at the store and biographies of Victorian spies seemed particularly enticing.
As I looked around, there were many books about the Queen; British history occupies an entire section. The world of art and literature has rarely had a more compelling subject. I remember reading a breezy book called ‘The Wicked Wit of Queen Elizabeth’ by Karen Colby during the pandemic, while simultaneously watching the series ‘The Crown’. The book is a light-hearted insight into her as a person, who was both to ‘the manner born’ and ‘the manor born.’ To be fair, there are other historical treatises about the Queen that will no doubt stand the test of time. But this book has its moments and here are five accounts that will bring a smile-
1. The Queen has been known to occasionally muddle people up. She once confused the Labour leader Michael Foot with the comedian Ken Dodd. On another occasion, when coming upon historian Andrew Roberts giving Kate Middleton a lesson on the history of the monarchy shortly before her wedding to Prince William, the Queen was convinced he was one of the Palace butlers!
2. When the Queen and Prince Philip visited the London headquarters of Google in 2008, they were shown a YouTube clip of the 'Laughing baby' and were soon laughing along. 'Lovely little thing, isn’t it?' the Queen commented to Philip. ‘Amazing a child would laugh like that.’
3. There is an interesting passage in the book, which sort of sums up the Windsors - “the royal family are all very keen on ice in their drinks but apparently detest the sound of ice cubes chinking. As a result, they have a special machine to produce round ice balls, which make a softer, less irritating noise in the glass.”
4. The Queen had to sit through a lot of entertainment and performances; Prince Philip once asked singer Tom Jones, “what do you gargle with, pebbles?” in 1969.This story of the Prince’s distaste for Tom Jones is well known. The Queen’s humour might also be unintentional - when meeting guitar legend Eric Clapton in 2005, she enquired “Have you been playing a long time?”
5. The book admits that most of her best lines are said off-camera to her close inner circle. But watching her excitement at the races when one of her horses romps home to victory, or hearing how she danced a jig of delight at the news of an England test cricket victory, it's impossible to doubt she likes to have fun.
She's not above poking fun at herself and no one is safe from her love of a good joke. The Queen has been known to terrorise unsuspecting guests with her wild driving and is said to be a good mimic.
Best to close this, with what the Queen said about herself - “I have to be seen to be believed.”
Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist and bestselling biographer. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ On Twitter @OfficialReetaRG.