Few would deny that the duties of monarchy often verge on the absurd: Cutting ribbons, unveiling plaques and encountering an endless stream of powerful figures reduced to stammering nervousness. For Queen Elizabeth II, seven decades of near-daily official engagements had the effect of giving her a distinctly wry sense of humor. Below, a not-at-all comprehensive summary of some of her greatest hits:
“I think I might just put a knife in it.”
The British monarch is often called upon to cut cakes, typically while employing absurdly elaborate knives or swords. In recent years, the Queen increasingly used these occasions to belt out a string of quips before plunging the knife in. Before cutting a cake to mark her Platinum Jubilee, she noted that it was positioned towards the waiting press instead of her, as “I don’t matter.” At another cake-cutting, as she struggled to wield an enormous sword, an aide noted that there was a knife available. “I know there is,” she said.
“New Zealand has long been renowned for its dairy produce, although I should say that I myself prefer my New Zealand eggs for breakfast.”
During a visit to New Zealand in 1986, the Queen was struck by an egg thrown by an anti-monarchist. That same visit would also see an anti-royalist attempt to ram a car into her motorcade. However shaken she may have been by the demonstrations (the Queen would encounter more than a few security close calls in the 1980s), the above quote is how she brushed it off in an official speech.
“I haven’t (met the Queen), but Dick here meets her regularly.”
The Queen led a particularly informal life during her stays at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and was known to occasionally hike out for remote picnics with nobody else except her protection officer Richard Griffin. On one of these hikes, the Queen encountered a pair of American tourists who started chatting her up with no apparent idea of who she was. When they eventually asked if she had ever met the Queen, Elizabeth gestured to her protection officer and gave the Americans the above response.
“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister of Canada, for making me feel so old.”
Soon after his election as Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau gave a lengthy speech in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II detailing just how long she had been on the throne. Trudeau noted that 12 Canadian prime ministers had served under her, that she had appeared on a Canadian postage stamp in 1935, and that she had already been Queen for three decades when he met her as a child in 1982. Above is how Elizabeth thanked the Canadian leader for his toast.
“I wondered how many people had fallen into it.”
In June, the Queen made an official video call to Australia to mark her Platinum Jubilee. After the eager-to-please Australian delegation gushed about the time in 1988 when she opened their parliament, Elizabeth responded with her most vivid memory of that day: A ground-level water feature in the parliament’s rotunda that struck her as a safety risk.
“I’d better introduce myself. I’m the Queen.”
The Queen uttered the above introduction to a startled receiving line after the man who was supposed to introduce her became trapped inside one of the royal vehicles. Lord Clydesmuir, the Queen’s Lord-Lieutenant, was supposed to have announced the monarch’s arrival to a gathering in Scotland, but he instead got tangled on his ceremonial sword.
“You’ve been serving for some time?… It looks like that.”
In October, the Queen was inspecting the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, who were taking up a stint as the Queen’s Guard (the famous guards in bearskin hats who stand in sentry boxes outside Buckingham Palace). She approached one particularly aged member of the regiment, and when he said he had been serving for “27 years,” she replied that it “looks like that.”
“This house is very big, you know.”
During a visit to Buckingham Palace, Italian actress Luisa Mattioli asked the Queen why she always carried her handbag inside her own home. The actual answer is that the Queen used the handbags to signal secret messages to her staff; switching the bag to her right arm, for instance, was a signal that she was done with a particular interaction. But Elizabeth was much more coy in offering the above explanation to Mattioli.
“Bloody ‘ell Ma’am, what’s ‘e doin’ ‘ere!”
One of the Queen’s reported talents was a gift for mimicry. She could impersonate Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, several US presidents and, like most Brits, she probably had a go-to Churchill impression at the ready. The above is the Queen doing an impersonation of her Yorkshire housemaid’s reaction to the Michael Fagan incident. In 1982, Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and the Queen awoke to him standing in her room and clutching a fragment of glass. After Fagan tried to engage the terrified monarch in some stilted conversation, the meeting was interrupted by a housemaid entering with the morning tea.
“As you can see, I can’t move.”
In the last months of her life, Elizabeth II struggled to walk without support — a condition that was delicately referred to as “mobility issues” by Buckingham Palace. As a result, her last public engagements usually involved staff propping her up on a walking stick before cameras were allowed into the room. The Queen called attention to this directly in a February engagement at Windsor Castle where she greeted Major General Eldon Millar, the incoming defense services secretary. The Queen cheerfully gestured for Millar to approach before pointing at her legs with the explanation above.
“I’m still alive, anyway.”
In 2016, the then-90-year-old Queen was in Northern Ireland where she met the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuinness. When McGuinness broke the ice with a nervous “How are you?” the Queen responded with the above reference to her own mortality.
“Oh dear. I hope it wasn’t anyone important.”
A curious phenomenon became visible to the Queen during her final decade on the throne. Whereas the monarch once looked upon crowds of smiling faces, now she was mostly seeing throngs of people holding up their mobile phones. But one of the Queen’s first encounters with the indelicacies of the mobile phone age would occur in a Privy Council meeting held during the premiership of Tony Blair. When Blair cabinet minister Clare Short suddenly had her phone go off, the Queen broke the resulting awkward silence with this quip.
Some of the Queen’s most candid interactions occurred with the artists who painted her official portraits. During a sitting with the painter Juliet Pannett, the Queen described a time at her Sandringham estate where she had personally popped into a local shop to buy a cake for afternoon tea. Inside the shop, a senior citizen looked at the plainly dressed monarch and exclaimed, “Good heavens, you look just like the Queen,” spurring the above retort.
“If I wore beige, nobody would know who I am.”
This quote was told to royal biographer Robert Hardman, and was the Queen’s justification for always wearing bright colors while performing official engagements. And as some of the above interactions indicate, people did indeed have trouble identifying the Queen if she wasn’t decked out in pastel colors.
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II, the final farewell
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