‘The Queen is still shy in private’ (Image: Getty)
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For millions across the world, Elizabeth II is the embodiment of monarchy. And on Saturday, she celebrated her first official birthday without her beloved Duke of Edinburgh by her side.
Her long life spans nearly a century of national and global history, from a time before the Great Depression to the era of Covid-19.
In an elegant new biography examining the longest-reigning sovereign in British history, acclaimed royal author Matthew Dennison traces Her Majesty’s life – the joys and triumphs as well as the disappointments and heartache.
Here, he reveals some fascinating insights and uncovers precious gems about our very own Queen of Hearts in celebration of her special day…
Behind the public mask
With Philip and their corgis at Balmoral Castle in 1974
“She’s probably the only person who can distinguish between her as Lilibet and her as the Queen – and I suspect that Lilibet hasn’t really changed all that much over the years.
"She has a very clear understanding of what it means to be Queen. My feeling is that the private woman is still diffident and shy but that she’s become more confident in her role as Queen.
"That confidence happened quite quickly – by the 60s people were saying she was very at home in her skin.”
Wearing the Imperial State Crown at the State Opening of Parliament
Diana had meeting after meeting with the Queen
(Image: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
“The Queen told her cousin Margaret Rhodes that she wouldn’t abdicate unless she had Alzheimer’s or a stroke. That was clearly a true statement then and I think it’s probably true now.
"She’s always been consistent. There are family issues at the moment but most of her family are fully supporting her.
"While this continues to be true and her health remains good, she will go on. If the senior advisers all said, ‘Ma’am, I wonder…’ she might listen, but she doesn’t regard monarchy as a job, rather as something more special.”
Her relationships with Diana and Meghan
With Harry and Meghan in 2018
“The Queen doesn’t talk about her own feelings and she doesn’t encourage others to talk about their feelings either.
"Diana had meeting after meeting with the Queen, who ultimately felt it was the same conversation happening over and over again. Diana never forgot who her mother-in-law was and that provided a barrier that was not of the Queen’s making.
"I don’t know if Meghan was overawed in that sense because Meghan was a grown woman with experience of life when she joined the royal family whereas Diana was a young girl. But I think both women wanted something from the Queen that they didn’t get.”
Charles as King
Charles will reflect upon the model set by his parents
“The Queen thinks – and Philip did, too – that the most important thing they’ve given to their children is this idea of service.
"It’s amazing what Prince Charles has done and I think his monarchy will resemble his mother’s because he shares her feelings about it as something special.
"When we’re young, we don’t care what we do as long as it’s different to our parents, but he’s had long enough to grow through that and reflect on the model of his parents.”
Grieving at Balmoral
“By the time the Queen gets to Balmoral this summer she’ll have had a certain amount of healing time. There
are so many sweet anecdotes about her summers there with Philip.
"One time, some neighbours went over for a barbecue and what really struck them was the Queen preparing the food and singing ‘dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones’ [From Dem Bones, a song, first recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928]. She was relaxed and happy.”
Her role as Granny
Queen insists on borrowing ceremonial sword to cut cake with Kate spotted laughing
Kate Middleton won't be Duchess of Cambridge in the near future as royal rank changes
“The Queen’s relationship with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren seems to be unaffectedly happy.
"They clearly do have great respect for her as the Queen and they know that she’s not necessarily the same as everyone else’s granny, but it seems a genuinely warm and affectionate relationship.
"They all adore their grandmother. She’s a brilliant grandmother and great-grandmother and it’s not distorted by her role as a monarch.”
A special child
“She genuinely had an incredibly happy childhood. Her parents worked really hard to make it so but also the Queen, as a little girl, was completely enchanting.
"She was a very special child. We know that in the 1930s if someone was writing about royalty it would all be highly favourable, but the way journalists responded to little Princess Elizabeth went beyond that. People adored her.
"She wrote her mother a letter from her honeymoon in which she expressed her gratitude for being able to have a wonderful childhood.”
The 2022 Platinum Jubilee
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“The Queen doesn’t set any store on these anniversaries. She made it clear when she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch that it was simply that she had lived longer than Queen Victoria.
"She doesn’t consider that an achievement, nor is there any bit of her that wants to score points over Queen Victoria.
"She will recognise that this is a first in British history and therefore something to be marked but I don’t think she’ll see it as a celebration of herself. She’ll see it as an opportunity for community spirit and celebration.”