To follow are a series of blogs created by Coutours. These help stitch together the fascinating fabric of London into a series of interesting tales and stories to showcase London in all its glory.
The Platinum Jubilee: Elizabeth the Great.
Calling Queen Elizabeth II a GOAT may just go down as badly as a popped balloon. GOAT is the latest flavour saying of celebrities, calling each other GOATS - which stands for ‘Greatest of All Time.’ Justly I would say, if the acronym should be attributed to one individual, there is none other than our gracious Queen Elizabeth II.
For seventy years, the Queen has held the reign, held the stage. Served and comforted her people - been the figurehead of our nation and survived fourteen Prime Ministers, two World Wars, countless scandals and a ruly mop of relatives, remaining supremely serene after decades of being in the public eye. Seventy years of service produces several thousand books, films and television series. Volumes of her life. Few Britons have known a year of their lives when the Queen was not in it.
Past months have been the planning of the Platinum Jubilee and collective worry at signs of frailty in her appearances at court. Our Queen is 95, and we marvel at pictures of her behind the wheel at Balmoral, and especially when riding a horse. With her we mourned her beloved Prince Philip who died earlier this year. The image of our Queen, sitting alone in a pew in Westminster Cathedral at his funeral, will forever stay with us forever.
Image courtesy of The Metro
Leading up to The Platinum Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II is currently the longest reigning monarch on the British Throne, joining an elite club which includes King Louis XIV of France (1643 - 1715), Johan II, Prince of Liechtenstein (1858 - 1929) and Bhumibol, King of Thailand (1927 - 2016).
The Queen has five homes; Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle and Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is her Scottish base when she travels there. Much speculation is made about which is her favourite, and we secretly think Balmoral it may be.
Image courtesy British Heritage.
No. 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. The birthplace of Queen Elizabeth II on the 21st April 1926, at 2.40 am. The home belonged to her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was the first child of King George VI (then still the Duke of York) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her sister, Princess Margaret Rose followed four years later. The house no longer stands, having been demolished for redevelopment.
How did these two young girls spend their childhood? The Queen’s father was never expected to ascend the throne. His eldest brother, Edward became King Edward VIII - and then fell madly in love with a divorced American, Wallis Simpson. The relationship was vetoed by everyone, including the British Parliament and all attempts to marry were rejected which convinced the king that he should rather abdicate than spend his life without his true love. Elizabeth’s father was crowned King which meant that the young first born princess would follow him as Queen. The two young girls were raised by a governess, Marion Crawford or ‘Crawfie’ (later sacked for writing a book about her time in their house) and spent most of their time just being with each other. The little family were devoted to each other and seldom sought outside company. The children did not attend a proper school.
‘Lilibet is my pride. Margaret is my joy.’ King George VI
If the Queen was the silent, reserved personality type, Princess Margaret was the complete opposite, and they remained close throughout their lives. The Queen had a direct line to her sister. It is said they telephoned each other every day. It must have been incredibly difficult for the Queen when she had to veto the relationship between Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend because he was a married man. Margaret, then just twenty two years and devoted to the older Townsend, was devastated. Her life was to be one of little occupation, always second to the Queen - her marriage ended in divorce and she spent most of her time destined to be a socialite, flitting from party to party.
Image courtesy of The Washington Post.
The young Princess Elizabeth joined her parents in the war effort, enrolling in the The Auxiliary Territorial Service, learning to service and repair trucks. Her sister was too young and continued her education, and despite calls for the princesses to take refuge in Canada, the Queen Mother said, ‘‘The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave.’
When the war ended, the two sisters left Buckingham Palace to celebrate with the crowds without anyone being any the wiser.
Images courtesy of the Alamy
Prince Phillip. They met as children at a relative’s wedding, but the real spark moment came in 1939 when he gave the sisters a tour of The Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Was it love at first sight? They would write to each other throughout the war and in 1943 he accepted her invitation to spend Christmas at Windsor Castle. Three years later, Prince Phillip asked for her hand in marriage - he asked her first, which was not strictly the correct protocol, before asking her father.
Prince Philip was of Greek and Danish origin and relinquished his titles prior to his marriage and was given the title of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. It is also believed he smoked his last cigarette the night before his wedding, much to the Queen’s delight.
They were married at 10.30 am on the 23rd April 1947 at Westminster Abbey. Flanked by eight bridesmaids, she arrived in the Irish State Coach with her father, King George VI. Two thousand guests were invited to the ceremony, including many members of foreign royal families and heads of State. It was a grand affair, her dress designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, who based his design on the famous painting, Primavera by Botticelli, as inspiration for the gown. He also designed her going away outfit. The dress itself was detailed and lavish, something achieved by the Queen using some of her ration stamps to help pay for it - it was soon after the end of the war. Two pearl necklaces and a tiara loaned by her mother, now Queen Mother, completed the outfit while her bouquet consisted of lilies and a single sprig of myrtle, a tradition started by Queen Victoria.
Image courtesy of The Times.
The carefree couple spent their honeymoon at Broadlands.
Imagine if you will, young and blissfully married to the man of your dreams, a trip to Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, and you hear of your father’s unexpected death. Tragic in any circumstances, but for Princess Elizabeth, the loss of her father was more than just that of a daughter losing her dad. His moment of death signified her moment of becoming Queen Elizabeth II. It was the 6th February 1952. Her official title is Queen Elizabeth II, by Grace of God, of the United Kingdom and Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Head of the Church of England. Quite a list of titles to bear upon slim shoulders!
Her Coronation took place on June 2nd 1953 at Westminster where a mere six years prior she had walked down the aisle to be married. Rather than a wedding dress, now wrapped in robes, furs and finery befitting the new monarch.
The Queen has survived 14 Prime Ministers and two World Wars. Of these, Winston Churchill was a favourite. She wrote of his importance and that no Prime Minister would ‘ever for me be able to hold the place of my first Prime Minister, to whom both my husband and I owe so much and for whose wise guidance during the early years of my reign I shall always be grateful.’ When Churchill died, the Queen broke royal protocol by arriving at the funeral before his own family. Not only did he carry Britain through the war, but mentored a young queen through her first years on the throne.
Last year was not a happy one for her. The Covid Pandemic, Mexit and the loss of her beloved husband, her rock and confidant.
Images courtesy of ABC.
She has shaken a million hands, hosted dozens of State Banquets and planted close to 1500 trees.
The Queen cannot vote, but shares a keen interest in the lives and politics of those she rules over.
In 2012 she celebrated her diamond Jubilee and her Platinum Jubilee is close. The country waits with bated breath, partly excited at the expectation of celebrations, royal pageants and parades. Of bunting and picnics and souvenirs - partly sad at the fact that it may be the last one for the Queen.
But we shall not think about that. Let us celebrate instead, the more personable aspects of this remarkable woman, this illustrious Queen Elizabeth.
Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen in London.
The Royal Standard is flown when the Queen is in residence. Lately it was announced the Queen has chosen to quit Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle and only return for official duties.
Penny Juror, in her book ‘The Firm’ writes about how the Queen elected to reside at Clarence house after the death of her father, but Winston Churchill would have none of it and pressed the young Queen to take up residence at Buckingham Palace. Perhaps there are too many bittersweet memories there? The Queen standing at the gates as the coffin of Princess Diana passed by, is but one of them. The night Michael Fagan broke into the Palace and entered her bedroom? The many wedding parties on the balcony and how few have lasted? No-one really knows, for there have been happy times too. Perhaps it is just too large and formal for her now? I suspect she enjoys the less formal lifestyle at Sandringham and Balmoral, where she can enjoy the countryside and drive freely across the highlands.
Did you know that the Queen does not have a passport? All those stately trips and no need to stand at customs like the rest of us.
If the Queen were to do her own shopping and a few of the things she loves. Let’s begin with Jermyn Street in the heart of London.
Notice the Royal Warrants along the many shops around the area. This means that the Royal family have ‘given their seal of approval’ to the establishment.
Image courtesy of Alamy
Fortnum and Mason, Paxton and Whitfield, the specialist Cheese supplier and Floris are just a few shops on Jermyn and Piccadilly Streets with the Royal seal of approval. Floris has carried the Royal Warrant for over 50 years - her favourite perfume from them is ‘White Roses.’
Bond Street, New Bond Street and other shops in Mayfair are also favourites of the Queen and the Royal household.
The House of Fraser, Burberry, Purdey’s - it’s fun going around looking for the warrants on shop frontages and wondering what the Queen would like best from these stores. Does she shop for birthday presents and such and arrive after hours for a private shopping experience, or send her trusted aides with a shopping list? What about online shopping? Is the Queen a closet Amazon junkie? Somehow doubt that.
Image courtesy Town and Country.
There are secret codes the Queen uses with her handbags. According to a Royal Historian Hugo Vickers, the Queen will change her handbag from one side to the other if she wishes to end a conversation with someone at a formal function. If the bag is placed on the table, then it is time to leave, and who would want to keep the Queen waiting, so a beady eye is needed to read the signals and one could say, it’s in the bag.
The Queen favours Fulton Birdcage umbrellas. They are bespoke to her, clear domed plastic for better viewing and handmade to match the colour of her outfit on special occasions.
All the Queen’s clothing she no longer needs goes to her dressers. Angela Kelly is her chief dresser and has designed many outfits for the Queen, particularly during the Diamond Jubilee. She says: ‘ We are two typical women. We discuss clothes, make-up, jewellery. We say, ‘Would this piece of jewellery look nice with that outfit?’ Like regular friends, but of course all remain respectful of Her Majesty.
Then comes the favourite chocolates …
Image courtesy of Charbonnel et Walker
Darryn MacGrady, former chef to the Queen said ‘She loves chocolates. That was her favourite and has to be dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate the better.’ Then who better to visit than Charbonnel et Walker, the famous chocolate shop that carries the Royal Warrant, first established in Bond Street in 1875. Though the main chocolatier, Adam Lee did not divulge the Queen’s personal tastes, he did mention that she loved floral chocolates and we are guessing these just have to be the Rose and Violet creams, perfect for a Queen.
Bellamy’s. The Queen’s favourite restaurant - the only restaurant the Queen dined at in London until a private function at The Ivy in 2017. Her 60th Birthday included a dinner at Claridges Hotel, but Bellamy’s holds the honour of having had the Queen pop in for dinner with Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra.
It is common knowledge, and a little bit of ‘show and tell’ from previous chefs or staff working at the palace, that the Queen prefers a simple way of eating. Her meals are small and nutritious, but like everyone else, enjoys a Sunday roast, which may include venison if she is in the Scottish highlands.
As we approach this very special milestone in the life of our Queen Elizabeth II, we feel as if we are honouring a family friend. Always in the public eye, the Queen has never been anything but gracious, accommodating and calm. We have glanced into the corners of her private life and had much to say on the scandals and woes which would befall the best of us. We however, do not appear on the front page of every newspaper in the world. We cheer with her when she supports her Arsenal team, love the idea of a glass of champagne before bed, her beloved corgis and that she lives, at times, just behind the wall we often walk along.
The Queen is an icon of Britishness. She is our tea and crumpets,our country walks. Fabric of our lives, her face on mugs and every pound note we use. We know her shoe size, her children’s love affairs and how much tax she pays. We expect her to greet people she hardly knows, be the ultimate diplomat and seldom pass a personal opinion that may rock the establishment.
We have criticised her mothering skills, her reactions to certain situations and then we find her simply wonderful. We all have an opinion of her and how she carries out her duties, yet seldom acknowledge that she is human too.
She is an enigma, the legacy of British history, the central character. She is the GOAT - the Greatest of All Time - to Queen Elizabeth, our gracious queen, long live the Queen.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.