The woman behind the crown: The Queen’s playful sense of humour and quick wit

The Queen is known for her dedication to her royal duty, her composure and her stoicism.

02 June 2022

The Queen is known for her dedication to her royal duty, her composure and her stoicism.

In the words of the late Duke of Edinburgh, she has “the quality of tolerance in abundance”.

As a monarch of 70 years experience about to mark her Platinum Jubilee, her knowledge of constitutional matters, royal diplomacy and national life is unparalleled.

State Opening of Parliament 2019
The Queen after the state opening of Parliament in 2019 (Yui Mok/PA)

Not one for conflict, Elizabeth II dislikes direct confrontation and avoids making rash decisions.

She is considered cautious, conservative and a stickler for tradition.

She was resolute after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, insisting the flagpole should remain bare above Buckingham Palace as was the tradition if the monarch was away.

But such was the public outcry that in the end, as a mark of respect, the Queen was advised to, and relented by flying the Union flag at half-mast over the Palace on the day of Diana’s funeral.

Her love of horses, dogs and outdoor life has been a constant, and she once told her riding instructor “had she not been who she was, she would like to be a lady living in the country with lots of horses and dogs”.

The Queen
The Queen with some of her corgis walking at the Windsor Horse Trials in 1980 (PA)

In public, the Queen keeps her emotions in check – none more so than when she sat alone, holding back her sorrow, as she mourned at Philip’s funeral.

But occasionally, the depth of her feelings has come to the surface.

Her eyes welled at the memorial service for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks in 2001, and at the decommissioning of her beloved Britannia in 1997.

She shed a tear in 2002 as she poignantly took the Queen Mother’s place just months after her death at the opening of the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.

The Queen
The Queen leaving St Paul’s Cathedral after a memorial service for those killed in the September 11 terror attacks (Toby Melville/PA)

Author Robert Hardman has told how the Queen cannot abide rudeness and discourages over-familiarity by staff, deploying a “cold stare” if anyone crosses the line.

Yet the Queen also has a lighter side.

She has a playful sense of humour, a quick wit, excellent comic timing, and is a talented mimic.

When a group of American tourists encountered the headscarf-wearing Queen walking at Balmoral, failed to recognised her and asked whether she had ever met the Queen, the Queen quipped: “No, but he has,” gesturing to the policeman next to her.

In a BBC documentary in 2018 examining her coronation, she delighted royal fans by manhandling the heavy, priceless imperial state crown, pulling it towards her, turning it round and declaring: “This is what I do when I wear it.”

And she chuckled when describing how you could not look down to read your speech with it on because “your neck would break or it would fall off”.

In 2012 the Queen agreed to make a surprise, show-stealing cameo appearance in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics, greeting 007 actor Daniel Craig at Buckingham Palace with the words “Good evening, Mr Bond”.

The scene concluded with a stunt double of the Queen parachuting into the Olympic stadium.

Seconds later the real Queen, wearing the same peach dress as the stunt double, entered the arena to rapturous applause

Balmoral, in the Scottish Highlands, is the Queen’s favourite refuge where, according to friends, she used to behave quite differently – “rushing around in tatty clothes, laughing, joking, joining in, singing dirty songs”.

But she remains the “boss” of The Firm, advising her family on the correct way to do things as she protects the monarchy at all costs.

When the Duke of Cambridge wanted to wear his RAF uniform to his wedding, the Queen insisted he wore his red tunic of the Irish Guards as colonel of the regiment – his most senior military role – instead.

Diamond Jubilee celebrations
The Queen and grandson William during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations (David Jones/PA)

“I was given a categorical ‘no, you’ll wear this’.” William said. “That ‘no’ is a very good ‘no’. So you just do as you’re told.”

He added: “She may be my grandmother, but she is also very much the boss.”

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex tried to step down as senior royals, carry out royal duties but still earn their own money, the Queen remained firm – there would be no half-in, half-out role for Harry and Meghan.

In the end, after a crisis summit, they quit as senior working royals completely and moved to California.

Prince Harry at Sandhurst
Harry smiles broadly as the Queen reviews him and other officers during The Sovereign’s Parade at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 2006 (James Vellacott/PA)

But the Queen has long been accused of being ostrich-like when it comes to difficult family matters.

The Duke of York stepped down from public duties more than two years ago,  but only now has she stripped her son of his prestigious honorary military roles.

Eventually the Queen, no doubt bolstered by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, also made the difficult decision to stop Andrew using the style HRH, in a bid to distance the monarchy from the duke in the Jubilee year while he faces a civil sexual assault trial.

Matter of fact and resolute, she remarked simply: “Fine, let’s go. Stop mucking around,” on being told by her private secretary that she would have to start paying income tax in 1992.

The Queen, despite her wealth, likes practical and joke presents, and once warned Charles “Dog leads cost money” after he took her dogs for a walk at Sandringham and returned without the lead.

She has also not been averse to scolding younger family members.

William described how he and his cousin Peter Phillips got an “almighty bollocking” from the Queen after their antics with a quad bike

He said: “We were chasing Zara around, who was on a go-cart, and Peter and I managed to herd Zara into a lamppost, and the lamppost came down and nearly squashed her.

“I remember my grandmother being the first person out at Balmoral, running across the lawn in her kilt, (she) came charging over and gave us the most almighty bollocking.”

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