Photo: Chris Jackson/ WPA Pool/Getty Images
> Royal Pages
14 Takeaways from Gyles Brandreth’s New Biography, ‘Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait’
Prince Philip’s friend reveals the Queen had bone marrow cancer, loved the TV show “Line of Duty” and insisted on carrying her own umbrella / BY Leanne Delap / May 4th, 2023
Coronation weekend was all about Charles, but there is much we can learn about the new King from the woman who shaped him. The chief message in Gyles Brandreth’s best-selling biography, Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, is that Queen Elizabeth II did not dwell on her past or the constraints of duty; she just got on with the job. The best-selling biography, published in the U.K. last December (and serialized in The Daily Mail), was just released in North America. In a sea of books about Queen Elizabeth II that came out in 2022 – leading up to her Jubilee in June and following her death in September – this one stands out, not least because Brandreth is such entertaining company. He also had unparalleled access to his subject, since he first met the Queen in 1968, when he was in his twenties, and he was a friend of Prince Philip’s dating back to the 1970s. He also went to school with Camilla Parker-Bowles (and once admitted he had a crush on her circa 1964).
Brandreth is what you would call a national treasure. The long-time TV host of Good Morning Britain in the 1980s, as well as various TV game shows and radio programs, he was also an MP in the 90s, a Scrabble master, a historical fiction writer, the creator of a sweater line known for its exuberant colours and patterns, and the author of a number of royal books, including, most recently in 2021, Philip: The Final Portrait.
A doorstopper at 560 pages, the paperback hums along in a pleasant manner. Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait feels less like a traditional biography and more like a chat with a particularly charming friend. We do learn some amusing little nuggets, but the prologue – written in the days around the Queen’s death – has an immediacy that makes a powerful beginning. After that, the biggest impression is how the Queen was in control of her emotions and how little she let people know what she was thinking and feeling. Brandreth once suggested to Prince Philip that the term emotional self-sufficiency described both royal highnesses. Philip replied: “Being emotionally self-sufficient does not make one unfeeling.”
The selection of tales often feels a bit random, but in the best possible way. These are the stories of a great raconteur, and are best enjoyed as such. Here are 14 of my favourite takeaways from the book:
1 The Queen was not nervous about becoming the Queen: “I don’t think I ever thought about it, really.”
2 She preferred to carry her own umbrella, because when people held it for her, she found the water dribbled down the back of her neck.
3 Brandreth once introduced Queen Consort Camilla to a drag queen called Baga Chipz at one of his annual Oscar Wilde parties.
4 It was Brandreth who revealed Meghan Markle “quite liked” Nottingham Cottage on the Kensington Palace grounds when she first visited Harry, but that changed when she saw “the scale and grandeur” of Kate and William’s grand apartment with receiving rooms next door at Kensington Palace.
5 The Queen wondered aloud, apparently, if Harry wasn’t “too much in love” with Markle.
6 When a crossbow-toting would-be assassin was arrested on the grounds at Sandringham in December 2021, the Queen had a deadpan reaction: “Well, that certainly would have put a damper on Christmas, wouldn’t it?”
7 Camilla apparently is modelling herself after the former Duke of Edinburgh. At a 2022 luncheon attended by Brandreth and actress Joanna Lumley, she invoked Philip’s motto. “Look up and look out, say less, do more – and get on with the job. That’s just what I intend to do.” Brandreth goes so far as to say he sees Prince Philip reborn in Camilla.
8 The Queen and Prince Philip, contrary to popular belief, slept together more often than not, rather than in separate bedrooms.
9 After the Duke retired in 2017, they would often spend weeks apart when he stayed at Wood Farm on Sandringham. The Queen said her husband didn’t want “to be fussed over” and wished to “see out his days in his own way.”
10 We discover the Queen was not with her husband when he died in April 2021. Brandreth reports she was at his side constantly in his last weeks at Windsor Castle, but, sadly, staff were unable to wake her in time to see him the night he died.
11 Philip’s death renewed Elizabeth’s sense of duty. “When Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria retreated from the world,” Brandreth writes. “When Prince Philip died, Queen Elizabeth II went towards it.”
12 Brandreth reveals the Queen was suffering from bone marrow cancer, and had long been aware of her coming fate, but handled it with grace. As he writes: “The truth is that Her Majesty always knew that her remaining time was limited.”
13 The Queen was a fan of the award-winning British TV series Line of Duty, and it was one of the things that distracted her after the death of Philip.
14 The first time Prince Andrew gave the Queen a full account of his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, she responded with a single word: “Intriguing.”