We had the chance to interview Robert Hardman, the Royal writer who has just released a new book about the Queen called Her Majesty.
The hotly anticipated American edition of Robert Hardman’s biography of Queen Elizabeth (formerly Our Queen in the U.K.)—An intimate portrait of England’s soon-to-be longest reigning queen, in celebration of her diamond jubilee—and the first-ever book interview with her grandson, Prince William.
Check out our exclusive interview with the author below.
Anglotopia: There are a ton of books about the Queen that have come out in the last few months in time for the Diamond Jubilee – what sets your book apart from the rest?
Robert Hardman: This is a portrait of the Queen here and now, a behind-the-scenes study of her palaces and people following two years of privileged access to members of the Royal Family and the Royal Household. That is why, for example, the photographs are all in colour. There is plenty about the past in there, of course, but I didn’t want it to feel like a retrospective. This reign is a work in progress.
A: Who’s the most interesting figure in the Queen’s Court (except the Queen of course).
RH: Many! Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh has made a phenomenal contribution to international public life – not least with his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and the WWF – as well as to the success of this reign. I have been lucky to interview him several times and he has a shrewd perspective on everything from the tyranny of totalitarianism to truffle farming. Equally, the Prince of Wales is someone who has now been treading the domestic and global stage for longer than almost any politician and is a fascinating interviewee on almost any subject.
But I have enjoyed meeting the astonishing cross-section of staff within the Royal Household. Within the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (which really ought to be called the Ceremonial Department), for example, you will find some of the world’s top experts on pageantry and protocol. The Master of the Household’s Department (chefs, housekeepers, footmen, butlers and maintenance experts) are capable of organizing anything anywhere anytime. Within a day, they can transform St George’s Hall, Windsor from a tourist attraction to the setting for a state banquet, complete with priceless china, 136 table settings (all inch-perfect) and the longest table in Britain.
A: Have you met the Queen, what’s she like to meet?
RH: Over 20 years of writing about the Monarchy, I have been introduced to the Queen on various occasions and have watched countless people meeting her all over the world. She has great charm – a winning combination of both majesty and modesty. And it is entirely natural and genuine. There is absolutely nothing artificial about her. She has a genuine interest in what people do – and what makes them tick.
A: What would you say is The Queen’s favorite yearly Royal Event/Tradition – something she looks forward to?
RH: One of the happiest duties of being Monarch is recognizing service and excellence in others. The Queen always enjoys her investitures – the ceremonies at which she presents honours and decorations to around a hundred people at a time. As she herself once explained: ‘The system does discover people who do unsung things and I think that’s very satisfactory. I think people need pats on backs sometimes. It’s a very dingy world otherwise.’
According to her staff, one of her favourite rituals is the annual Royal Maundy service, every year on the Thursday before Easter. Dating back to medieval times – and inspired by the Biblical story of the Last Supper – it is a magnificent church service during which the Queen presents public-spirited elderly people with ‘alms’ in the form of specially-minted coins.
‘It’s magical,’ says a retired Private Secretary. ‘It encapsulates what’s best about the monarchy. You are walking through a great cathedral as the choir and congregation are singing and the Queen is performing a ritual which goes back for ever…If you had to sum up what the monarchy’s about, that’s it.’ It is also an event which brings out some of the most splendid fringe members of the Royal Household, not least the Clerk of the Cheque, the Keeper of the Closet and Her Majesty’s Supplier of Nosegays (bouquets designed to ward off evil smells in medieval times). Each official is paid just 10p (15 cents) for their appearance.
A: What are the Queen’s Hobbies? What is she passionate about personally besides her people?
RH: Her love of animals and the countryside is well-known. But it goes well beyond corgis, racehorses and racing results. She keeps a keen eye on the fortunes of her cattle, hill ponies, racing pigeons and gun dogs. She is not merely interested in but extremely knowledgeable about farming, gardening and wildlife. Together with Prince Philip, she adores collecting pictures of birds.
A: What’s your favorite Royal Palace or Royal Attraction in Britain.
RH: For its scale, its history, its treasures and its remarkable community of (both royal and non-royal), Windsor Castle is always a joy to visit. I am just sorry that the Royal Yacht, Britannia – a magnificent yet understated royal residence – is no longer in service.
A: Most of our readership is based in the USA – why is the Queen relevant to an American audience in this day and age? Would we be better off with a Monarch as a Head of State?
RH: That is for you to judge! Every country has its own constitutional settlement, shaped by its own history and popular demands. We in Britain happen to have a monarchy which has evolved from autocratic to constitutional, via a civil war and an execution. The Queen represents the country – to itself and to the world – and provides a sense of continuity and stability. The mere existence of a Monarch means that no one else can seek, say, to assume control the Armed Forces or the judiciary because that role is already occupied. And, of course, there is nothing like a royal occasion to raise the national profile.
A: It’s been said that the Commonwealth is very personally important to the Queen. For Americans who aren’t familiar with it – what exactly is the Commonwealth and what is it’s purpose?
RH: Put simply, the Commonwealth is a club for all the former members of the old British Empire. It is an entirely voluntary association of free nations, some of whom have had a troubled history with Britain at one time or another. But all are equals within this organization. In most cases, the member states are united by a common language, legal code and parliamentary system, although, in recent years, countries with no British imperial connection have applied to join. The Commonwealth spans every continent, every major religion and a third of the world’s people. Its global role has been diminished by more recent geo-political creations like NAFTA, the EU and the G20. But it is still an influential voice in promoting good governance and democracy among its members. Notable victories include the isolation of South Africa during the apartheid era. It also operates an impressive network of self-help organisations. It is often said that its meetings have a family atmosphere; there will be almighty rows but few walk out. And if its members all agree on one thing, it is that they like having the Queen as the symbolic Head of the organisation. Many are emphatic that without her, the Commonwealth would have fallen apart by now. When she came to the Throne, it had eight members. Today, it has 54.
A: The Royal Wedding has been said to be a watershed moment for the Monarchy in the 21st century – what will its long term effects be? Is the Monarchy relevant again?
RH: I think that the Monarchy has always been relevant. It is part of the fabric and landscape of the United Kingdom. It is just enjoying greater visibility right now. We see much of our national history through the prism of the Monarchy. And that is why we love an event like a Royal Wedding –we feel connected with it and part of it.
A: You interview Prince William for the first time in the book – what’s he like in person and what does the immediate future hold for he and the Duchess of Cambridge?
RH: The Duke of Cambridge – as Prince William has become – struck me as considerate, confident, thoughtful; unstuffy but conscious of duty; wise for his age but eager to learn. And, crucially, he is happy with his royal role as it is. Ditto the Duchess. He is in no hurry to forsake his life as a Royal Air Force pilot for a full-time royal career. He and the Duchess are clearly determined to do their bit in supporting the Queen, particularly during her Diamond Jubilee. But they will also want to make the most of life as a young married couple without some of the constraints which lie ahead. The Queen and Prince Philip look back on the early years of their marriage, when they were a young Royal Navy couple stationed in Malta, as some of the happiest days of their lives. The Duke and Duchess, I have no doubt, will want to do the same.
A big thank you to Robert for taking a break from his busy book tour to talk to us!
Check back tomorrow for an excerpt from Her Majesty!
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