Mum's the Word
updated 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST
The regal Elizabeth was scheduled to arrive in San Diego aboard the royal yacht Britannia last Saturday to begin a 10-day, eight-stop tour—an unprecedented opportunity for Americans to get a glimpse of what the Duke of Windsor once called "the Royal Show": tiaras, red carpets, equerries, ladies-in-waiting and pomp in every circumstance. Yet the commanding presence before whom Prime Ministers bow is in many ways a woman like all others. Elizabeth II, now 56, eats lightly to control her weight (about 112 pounds on a 5'3" frame), dyes her chestnut hair to hide the gray, favors Chanel No. 5 and reddish-pink lipstick 5 (which she unabashedly applies with a compact at the dinner table).
The royal wardrobe is as unostentatious as a royal wardrobe could be: The Queen is partial to tailored suits and silk dresses in both bright and pastel shades designed for her by the firms of Hartnell's, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. (Every purse matches her shoes and contains just a compact, lipstick, glasses and, possibly, a £5 note for the church collection box.) The Queen, who as a little girl would jump out of bed in the middle of the night to make certain her clothes were properly lined up, still makes sure all her attire is indexed (including which hats and jewelry go with what) in wardrobes that fill five rooms at Buckingham Palace. Frugal as well, in her fashion, she recycles her clothing by adding trim or changing hemlines; a floor-length dress especially made for her visit to Saudi Arabia four years ago has resurfaced several times since as a street-length frock.
Her subjects are touched by such evidence of her common humanity. Likewise, the Queen's well-known love of crossword and jigsaw puzzles and the telly (Coronation Street, a British soap about the working classes, and horse racing are among her favorites) brings her nearer to her people. At horse trials and Highland games, she can even be seen taking her own snaps, which she later sticks into large green photo albums.
Attentive wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother of three, Elizabeth is also a lifelong career woman with what may be the world's biggest expense account. The $5.5 million "Civil List" payment accorded her each year helps defray the costs of running Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, two of her four households. Very often her subjects go to great expense and trouble to spruce up hospitals, railway stations and town halls, a practice the royal family does not like or want. (Prince Charles has said on more than one occasion: "The smell of new paint sticks in my nostrils.") In the course of running the "family firm" (as her father, George VI called it), Elizabeth makes some 400 public appearances each year and has traveled 750,000 miles since her coronation in 1953. She also opens sessions of Parliament and confers weekly (on Tuesday evenings) with the Prime Minister.
Elizabeth II not only endures but obviously also thrives on her job. The Queen's royal appointments are scheduled as far as six months in advance; extended trips are sometimes three years in the planning. She is awakened just before 8 with a cup of tea and then heads for her bath (with crystals), where she scrubs herself with lavender-or pine-scented soap. Her clothes are laid out by her dresser, who is the only staff member to see her in nightclothes. By 8:45 the Queen joins her husband in the royal dining room, where she breakfasts on one egg sunnyside up, bacon, tea and toast. Both the Queen and Prince Philip, who starts his breakfast at 8:30, listen to the BBC news and read the daily papers while they eat.
After morning phone calls to her mother (which allows the palace operators the pleasure of saying "Your Majesty, Her Majesty calling") and often to her sister, Princess Margaret, the Queen meets with the Page of the Backstairs to discuss the day's menus. "It's like living over the shop," Prince Philip once said. Through the years his wife has pared the staff of the 600-room labyrinth to a manageable 260 full-time workers. Some of them are bachelors, who are better suited to the demands of the job than family men (and some are said to be homosexuals). According to one palace source, it is well known in the police force that being a bodyguard to the royal family is almost certain to end a marriage; every tour means going abroad twice—once for a dry run and the second time for real.
The Queen is aware of the toll taken by being in the royal service. She leaves all domestic concerns to members of her household staff, who decide such practical matters as determining which of her Sevres china collections to use at a state dinner and whether to choose a gold or a silver service. After a morning meeting with her private secretary, Sir Philip Moore, 61, she works on her daily state "boxes"—battered leather dispatch boxes containing the key cables to the Foreign Office in the last 24 hours, orders to sign for the Home Secretary, and other state documents. Elizabeth works in a bow-windowed study at the back of Buckingham Palace surrounded by photographs of her family. The decor, according to a palace insider, is "reserved good taste...nothing Arab."
At 12:45, if no official luncheon is scheduled, the Queen dines alone on salad, fruit and mineral water in her private dining room, and sometimes does the Daily Telegraph crossword. Afternoons are generally devoted to public engagements (making speeches, unveiling plaques, opening hospitals). At 5 p.m. the Queen may pause for her special weak mix of India and China teas blended by Twinings, served with one or two tiny, decrusted cucumber-and-tomato sandwiches and a sliver of sponge cake.
She returns to work until dinner is served, some time between 7:30 and 8:30; by then Philip is generally back from his day of official ceremonial duties and functions. Before sitting down to dine, the Queen may have a gin and tonic straight up. During her evening meal, Elizabeth sips both red and white wine (though she prefers white) and enjoys relatively plain, well-cooked food like roast beef, lamb cutlets or steak. The Queen does not eat oysters, raw fish or anything prepared with garlic or onions. A deft hostess, Elizabeth keeps conversation lively, shifting from the guest on her right to the one on her left. (Favorite topics are the Commonwealth and horses.) The Queen Mother once said her daughter could carry on a sparkling conversation "about changing spark plugs."
Though table talk rarely descends that far, Elizabeth does relish her private, less regal moments. She is a devoted if protocol-conscious mother (at Buckingham Palace her four children always visited her—she did not go to their quarters). But, says British journalist and royal-watcher Nigel Dempster, "Elizabeth has always left the discipline of her offspring to Philip. He calls the shots. It is he who expresses anger, not the Queen. The role of state is reversed at home. He is the dominant factor." The Queen is thus able to relax with her children and is said especially to enjoy holidays when she can be alone with her family. Photographer Norman Parkinson is one of the commoners privileged to spend a weekend at Balmoral Castle. "It is like being with the most hilarious family in the world," he says. "There are children, dogs, cushions on the floor, endless games and lots of joking." Has the monarch loosened up in the last few years? "What with her children and people like Koo Stark," laughs Parkinson, "I would imagine she is loosening her stays as fast as she can." (There are limits, however. Buckingham Palace was granted an injunction last week barring the London Sun from printing a palace kitchen worker's account of Prince Andrew's "romp" with Koo in the royal chambers.)
Sometimes Elizabeth's animals are the focus of her affections. Ever since she was 7 and her parents acquired a corgi, she has been enamored of the foxy-faced Welsh breed. The Queen's fluctuating canine population includes six female corgis named Smoky, Shadow, Sparky, Myth, Fable and Diamond who trail her about the palace. At mealtimes they cluster about her feet hoping for a crumb to drop from the royal table. So that the dogs won't also nibble at the Queen's purse, she fastens it to a clip clamped onto the antique dining table.
Some years ago a royal corgi fell for one of Princess Margaret's dachshunds; the result was an elongated corgi with sleek coat and bushy tail dubbed a "dorgi." The dorgi contingent has since doubled, and the Queen is said to be very fond of the hybrid. She personally feeds both corgis and dorgis, sometimes walks them, and oversees their burial in properly marked graves at Sandringham.
Along with her dogs, the Queen takes pleasure in her horses. An expert equestrienne, she breeds her own racehorses and now has about 20 in training for the 1983 flat season (one from the stable, Height of Fashion, was sold to a Dubai sheik last summer for an estimated $2 million). "The royal string compares quite favorably with those of the past," says Dick Francis, the best-selling author (Twice Shy) and former jockey who rode for the Queen Mother in the 1950s. "In 1977, the Queen's Jubilee year, one of her horses won two classics. She wins her share, I would say."
The cost of the royal victories is, by some standards, a queen's ransom: Approximately $250,000 is spent annually by the sovereign to keep her racehorses. However, as one of the richest women in the world, Elizabeth can well afford to drop a few farthings on fillies. Besides her income from the Civil List, Elizabeth receives approximately three-quarters of a million dollars annually in revenues from the Duchy of Lancaster, mostly agricultural and moor lands in the northwest of England. She owns both the 80,000-acre Balmoral estate in Scotland and the 20,000-acre Sandringham estate in Norfolk. The royal stamp collection, begun by her grandfather, George V, is one of the most valuable in the world; the royal art collection contains Rembrandts, Rubenses, Vermeers and hundreds of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. The Queen's Thoroughbred empire has been conservatively estimated at being worth $50 million, and the royal stock-and-bond portfolio is said to be one of the most extensive in the world. In addition to her other holdings, the monarch owns all unmarked swans in Great Britain.
The average Englishman does not begrudge Elizabeth her wealth. By all reckoning, Elizabeth remains a much loved and admired monarch. But as she enters her fourth decade on the throne, is she thinking about stepping down? Abdication, of course, is not in the British tradition and has been a sore subject since Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson. Says a close relation: "Abdication is not discussed and certainly will not be for several years, until the Queen has given Prince Charles and Diana a real chance to get into the swing of things. But I feel that it might happen. If not as an abdication, then perhaps as a semiretirement."
Whatever the future brings to the British monarchy, the present remains, in some measure, a modern-day fairy tale. The Queen, knowing only too well that her subjects' noses should never be allowed to rub up against the glass coach, does not give interviews or participate in televised debates or radio shows, and otherwise holds tight to her privacy. "Secrecy is, however, essential to the utility of English royalty," the Victorian writer Walter Bagehot once observed. "We must not let in daylight upon magic."