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The Queen behind the scenes: The Mail's Robert Hardman was given unique access to follow Her Majesty in her daily life. The result is a truly intimate and enchanting portrait of our Monarch in action…
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The filming of Our Queen began in the Norfolk snow on 6 February, 2012, the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession
The Queen’s response She is anything but bored. In fact, when Mr Cameron does start to brief her on the latest Eurozone crisis and the upcoming Greek election, she lets slip that she has been discussing it with a local expert. ‘The King did ring me,’ she tells Mr Cameron. ‘He’s very worried about it.’
As successive prime ministers have learned, the Queen is genuinely interested in this stuff. Patronise her at your peril. ‘There’s a very therapeutic side to it,’ David Cameron explains later.
‘Because as you explain the particular problem the Government has, or a particular challenge the country’s facing, sometimes you find it is all becoming clearer as you explain it to this one incredibly experienced person.’
It’s clear that there is also a genuine warmth to the working rapport. The Prime Minister lets slip that he started his day with two cross-examinations. ‘My son had to interview me at breakfast this morning, aged six,’ he says.
‘Everyone had to try to find someone who’d met the Queen to interview for their Jubilee projects.’ The Queen is greatly amused by this. ‘I think breakfast time is really rather hard,’ she says. ‘Too early,’ concurs the Prime Minister. ‘I’d already done an interview with the Daily Mail!’
The filming of Our Queen began in the Norfolk snow on 6 February, 2012, the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession. As the writer and co-producer of the film and author of the book, Our Queen, I was there too.
The film is full of fascinating insights from the Queen's family and staff on the real goings-on at those great events
The book is a portrait of a thoroughly modern Monarch who has quietly but comprehensively transformed the Monarchy over the last 25 years.
What better opportunity to film her in action than during her Diamond Jubilee year Only one other sovereign has marked a Diamond Jubilee. And Queen Victoria never had 12,000 people for a picnic in the Palace garden.
From the outset, everyone – including ITV, the production company, Oxford Film and Television, and the film’s producer and director, Michael Waldman – wanted this to be a classic observational documentary. In other words, there would be no presenter or celebrity to ‘explain’ what was going on. The Queen and no one else would be the star of the show.
And so it has proved. Nor would there be any use of archive film and old black and white newsreels. Waldman, a former BAFTA winner for his famous documentary on the Royal Opera House, was determined to see the Queen here and now.
2012 will always be remembered for epic royal moments like that heroic battle against the elements on the River Thames in the Jubilee Pageant or the Queen’s sensational debut as a Bond girl at the Olympic opening ceremony.
The film is full of fascinating insights from the Queen’s family and staff on the real goings-on at those great events.
Members of the Royal Family, senior politicians and world leaders all agreed to take part in Our Queen
The Prince of Wales, for example, provides a hilarious account of what happened straight after the pop concert outside the Palace in June; while the world enjoyed the biggest fireworks display of the Jubilee, the Queen, the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall found themselves penned inside a wooden booth behind the stage.
‘Suddenly there was the most almighty explosion,’ the Prince recalls, roaring with laughter. ‘I can’t tell you! The walls shook. Who’s let off a bomb We staggered out and managed to continue, slightly deafened by this unlikely explosion. So we missed the fireworks!’
But the Jubilee was about much more than great spectacles in the capital. The Queen and Prince Philip travelled to every part of the country while their children and grandchildren travelled the globe on her behalf. Our Queen takes us from the quagmire of a Welsh walkabout among sheep and goats to the Prince of Wales’s encounter with the ‘mud men’ of Papua New Guinea.
With so many important Jubilee events, 2012 was a year for the whole Team Windsor. All three generations were on parade together at Windsor Castle for the greatest assembly of crowned heads since the Coronation.
Viewers will be enthralled by the scenes – upstairs and downstairs – as the Queen entertains all the world’s monarchies to a Jubilee lunch. In terms of protocol, it doesn’t get more challenging than a room full of kings and queens (mostly reigning plus a few deposed) not to mention a fully-fledged emperor.
How on earth do you line them all up for a group photograph The Queen has a simple solution. The seating is arranged according to date of accession.
As a result, she ends up sitting between two kings – Bulgaria and Romania – neither of whom has been in possession of a crown for many years. But as with her Eurozone pundit, ex-King Constantine of the Hellenes, the Queen likes to stay loyal to her fellow monarchs, throne or no throne.
And, as we shall see, when you get a room full of majesties, the atmosphere can be surprisingly informal.
Members of the Royal Family, senior politicians and world leaders all agreed to take part in Our Queen, as did staff from across the Royal Household. So, too, did many luminaries of the Diamond Jubilee, from Robbie Williams to the Marquess of Salisbury, chairman of the great Thames Pageant.
Preparing to welcome the Sovereign to his ancestral seat, Hatfield House, as many of his forbears have done before him, Lord Salisbury reflects, ‘Things have gone downhill, of course. When James I came, they built the house. Then, when Queen Victoria came, they redid the interior and the outside. But in these austere times, we’ve done up the loo.’
The Countess of Wessex, in her first television interview since marrying into the Royal Family in 1999, offers some interesting insights into the way the Queen approaches her public duties.
In Our Queen, we see what happens when the euro really does crop up during another prime ministerial audience, this time at Buckingham Palace
The Countess remembers returning from a busy tour feeling exhausted, having tried to shake every hand, and then observing the Queen on duty soon afterwards.
‘And I really noticed that she never rushes. She takes her time. She is always very elegant in what she does. I thought I had to learn from that.’
After filming at close quarters for so long, it suddenly dawned on director Michael Waldman that the Queen has a brilliant tactic when working a room full of hundreds of people: she almost never says ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. Not only does it make moving from conversation to conversation easier but it avoids endless repetition.
As well as talking to the Prince of Wales and Countess of Wessex, Waldman and I went to see the Princess Royal and Princess Eugenie. Both paid tribute to the immense role of the Duke of Edinburgh in supporting the Queen.
One thing which is abundantly clear at the end of this colourful royal journey is that there has been no post-Jubilee slowdown
‘When you look at Granny, you forget that Grandpa has been there and stayed at her side since forever,’ says Princess Eugenie. ‘As a pair, they’re so strong.’
The Monarch has never given an interview, of course, so we flew to Copenhagen to talk to another queen enjoying a major anniversary. Last year was the Ruby Jubilee of Margrethe II, who is as popular in Denmark as cousin Elizabeth is in Britain.
A Cambridge-educated archaeologist with a passion for painting (just like the Prince of Wales), she talks tenderly about the way in which our Queen has been a role model for her.
And she offers some perceptive thoughts on that unique combination of emotion and expectation which falls on every new monarch acceding to a throne.
‘It was a complete turnover of my life. It’s imposed on you – yes – but it’s consented and when it happens you say “Yes, I will”.’ Queen Margrethe recalls how much she was influenced by the Queen’s famous 21st birthday speech to the Commonwealth in 1947.
‘It was a dedication,’ says the Queen of Denmark, ‘and if you don’t feel you can dedicate yourself, it won’t work.’
The film also includes the first television interview with a serving private secretary to the Queen. Wherever she is in the world, the Queen is always accompanied by one of her trio of private secretaries, her most senior advisers.
They are the main conduit between the Monarch and the state and, aside from the Queen herself, are the only people with keys to her red boxes. As he prepares to fill another one with state papers in need of attention or a signature, Edward Young, the deputy private secretary, explains that he and his colleagues do give the Queen a day off from her red boxes – but not often.
‘It is a 365 – pretty much – day-a-year monarchy, because that’s how it is,’ says Mr Young. ‘As a rule, Christmas Day is a day when there isn’t a red box and just occasionally on the Queen’s birthday as well. But I’m afraid that’s it.’
One thing which is abundantly clear at the end of this colourful royal journey is that there has been no post-Jubilee slowdown. It’s very much a case of normal service resuming at Buckingham Palace.
No matter that the upcoming royal birth will give the Queen the opportunity to look not just two but three reigns into the future. She has no intention of following one of her Windsor Castle lunch guests, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands – and more recently the Pope – by abdicating and handing over to the next generation.
The greeting lines and the investitures have not shrunk one jot. And the government continues to use the Queen as the ultimate weapon in the diplomatic armoury.
She would not have it any other way. As Buckingham Palace prepares to welcome its latest state visitor, the President of Indonesia, we see that the Queen is as rigorous as ever as she inspects the preparations.
No matter that the upcoming royal birth will give the Queen the opportunity to look not just two but three reigns into the future
Surveying the dazzling state banquet table, she makes sure the unsightly microphones – for the pre-dinner speeches – are well-disguised by the foliage. It can be rather disconcerting for a visitor to address a flower arrangement.
‘They’re always mystified when I say, “It’s perfectly alright. Just speak”.’ The banquet happens to fall on Halloween and the Queen and the Palace florist joke about whether there should be pumpkins on the table. ‘You know, I did actually wonder if there might be,’ says the Queen, ‘but I’m rather glad there’s not.’
Despite hosting more dinners for more world leaders than any sovereign in history, the Queen is still endearingly impressed by the magic of a state banquet.
At one point, she stands back to take in the scene. Just for a moment, she could be one of the 500,000 tourists who flock through the Palace each year as she murmurs proudly, ‘Grand!’
I hope that viewers of Our Queen are left saying much the same.
Our Queen will be on ITV later this month. The book, Our Queen by Robert Hardman, is published by Arrow (6.99) and Hutchinson (hardback, 20).