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In the early morning hours of August 6, 1922, crime novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie Christie, sailed into Honolulu, Hawaii, on the Makura and hailed a taxi.

On their drive to the Moana Hotel, they passed between palm trees and hedges of hibiscus, red, pink, and white oleanders, and blue plumbago. At their hotel, the sea washed right up to the courtyard steps on Waikiki Beach.

They checked into their rooms. From their window, they saw surfers catching waves to shore. They hurriedly changed into their swimsuits to rush down, hire surfboards, and plunge into the sea.

Surfers at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph by Agatha Christie

Surfers at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from Christie Archive

brit emp exh 1924 stamppThey had been looking forward to that moment since leaving England eight months earlier. In the interim, the Christies had traveled three-quarters around the world as part of a government trade mission to drum up interest in the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. Their travels had taken them from England to South Africa (where they were introduced to surfing), Australia, and New Zealand. They now had a month-long holiday in Hawaii – all to themselves – before they would rejoin the mission in Canada.

Surfing was much different in Hawaii than it had been in South Africa. The most obvious difference was the surfboard. In South Africa, the boards were short, curved, and made of light and thin wood.

Agatha Christie and a young naval attaché named Ashby stand on Muizenberg Beach, South Africa, following surf bathing, Jan.-March 1922

Agatha Christie and a young naval attaché named Ashby stand on Muizenberg Beach, South Africa, following surf bathing, Jan.-March 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In Hawaii, however, they were great slabs of wood, ridiculously long and even more ridiculously heavy, made even heavier by the fact that, to find a decent wave to catch, a person had to paddle the board a long, long way out from shore to a reef where the waves broke.

Agatha Christie with her Hawaiian surfboard. Aug./Sept. 1922

Agatha Christie with her Hawaiian surfboard. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In South Africa, the waves broke close to shore and were gentle.

Modern day surfing in Muizenberg, South Africa

Modern day surfing in Muizenberg, South Africa

Then there was the matter of what to do when you caught the right wave. In South Africa, surfers rode the wave on their stomachs. In Hawaii, they rode it standing up.

Spotting the right wave to catch was tricky. Agatha recalls:

First you have to recognize the proper wave when it comes, and, secondly, even more important, you have to know the wrong wave when it comes, because if that catches you and forces you down to the bottom, heaven help you….”

On that first day, Agatha indeed caught “the wrong wave.” She and her board were separated and she was forced far underwater. She swallowed “quarts of salt water” and arrived on the surface gasping for breath. A young American retrieved her board for her, saying:

‘Say, sister, if I were you, I wouldn’t come out surfing  today. You take a nasty chance if you do. You take this board and get right into shore now.'”

She took his advice and, in time, Archie joined her. They were bruised, scratched, exhausted, but not defeated. Agatha was determined to become expert at surfing.

The second time she went in the water, the waves tore her long, silk bathing dress off her body. She covered herself and went into the hotel gift shop where she bought a “wonderful, skimpy, emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well. Archie thought I did, too.”

Agatha Christie, sunburned and relaxed. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from Agatha Christie Collection

Agatha Christie, sunburned and relaxed. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In a few days, they moved to a more economical chalet across the road. They spent all their time on the beach or in town drinking ice cream sodas and buying medicines for sunburn. They learned to wear shirts on the beach as their backs were covered with blisters from sunburn.

Their feet were cut to ribbons from the coral so they bought leather boots to wear in the water.

After ten days, Agatha’s skills on a surfboard were improving. After

starting my run, I would hoist myself carefully to my knees on the board, and then endeavor to stand up. The first six times, I came to grief….[but] Oh, the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!”

Because of such vigorous paddling, Agatha developed a strain in her left arm. The pain was excrutiating and would wake her in the early morning hours. Nevertheless, Agatha continued to surf because there was

Nothing like it. Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour….until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft, flowing waves.”

Researcher Peter Robinson from the Museum of British Surfing says that Agatha Christie is probably one of the first British “stand-up surfers,” along with Edward, the Prince of Wales, who also surfed in Waikiki in 1920 and went on to become King Edward VIII of England for a year. Not to be outdone, let me remind my readers that Agatha Christie is literary royalty, being revered as the Queen of Crime. In 1971, she was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

For more on Agatha Christie, click here.

Source: Christie, Agatha. The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. United Kingdom: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012

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George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

It was Christmas, 1939, and Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Like his father before him, King George VI would continue the holiday tradition of addressing the British Empire in a live radio message. That year, he would broadcast from the royal country house at Sandringham, where he and his family would spend Christmas.

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

You will remember that King George VI was not a man comfortable with public speaking. His struggle to overcome a debilitating speech impediment – a stutter – was immortalized in the 2011 American Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “The King’s Speech.” A shy, nervous man, a heavy smoker and drinker (it would kill him at 56), King George VI would have preferred to have remained the Duke of York, living a quiet, out-of-the-public eye life with his sturdy wife and two rosy-cheeked daughters.

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. February 1939, 7 months before the outbreak of WWII

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. This photo was taken in February 1939, seven months before the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI – born Albert, called Bertie – never wanted to be king. He wasn’t supposed to be king. He was only king because his brother David had abdicated the throne in 1936 and he, Bertie, was next in line. Nevertheless, unwillingness aside, this unlikely monarch would rise to the occasion and be the very king the British people so sorely needed in a time of great trouble.

It was December 25, 1939, the day of the broadcast. Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, the tall and too thin sovereign approached the table where two radio microphones were set up, taking his seat.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

Taking a few deep breaths, he began to speak, slowly yet solidly. Measuring his words carefully, he spoke from the heart:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Toward the end of his nine-minute broadcast, he said:

“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:”

He then read from a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth,

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

He finished by saying,

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

For a king not known for compelling speeches, this one would be a landmark. It united King and Country in common cause and inspired the people to hold fast. After all, at this point in history, no one knew that the Allies would triumph. Britain was to face five more years of war and brutal bombing by Hitler before the day of liberation would arrive. The end of 1939 was a shaky time and great leadership by King, Queen, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill would hold Britain steady against the Nazi aggressors.

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

Listen to the last four minutes of the King’s Christmas 1939 message here:

For more about the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.

Click here for the full text of the King’s 1939 Christmas Message plus The REAL austerity Christmas: How a nation gripped by fear kept calm and carried  on three months after outbreak of war in 1939

*“The Gate of the Year,” by Minnie Haskins (1908)

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At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth – insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, took a preview tour of Buckingham Palace’s royal wedding exhibit on Friday. 

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her grandmother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, are on their way to view Buckingham Palace's royal wedding exhibit, July 22, 2011. Uncharacterically, the Queen is not carrying her trusty handbag.

The Royal Collection show, called “The Royal Wedding Dress: A Story of Great British Design,” opened to the public today. It brings together the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen white and ivory Irish lace wedding dress, shoes, tiara, earrings, and a replica bouquet for the public to view up close.

Among the items displayed at the Queen's London residence include the Cartier Halo tiara, worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day. The understated headpiece was made in 1936 and purchased by the Duke of York (later King George VI) for his wife, Elizabeth's mother (also Elizabeth). Queen Elizabeth received it as an 18th-birthday present, at which time she was Princess Elizabeth. The delicate diamond tiara was lent to Kate by the Queen.

The Palace expects over 500,000 people to buy tickets to the ten-week exhibit. Both at home and abroad, Prince William and Kate are wildly popular, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly warm reception they received earlier this summer on their 2011 Royal Tour of Canada with a detour to Hollywood.

Kate Middleton's bridal shoes will be on display at Buckingham Palace this summer. Custom made by Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton to match her wedding dress, Kate's elegant pumps are made of ivory duchesse satin with lace hand-embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

Kate and William’s wedding cake was a fruit cake designed by Fiona Cairns. It was covered in cream and white icing, decorated with over 900 sugar paste flowers and elaborate scrollwork. Fiona Cairns’ cakes are in huge demand; Sir Paul McCartney orders one every Christmas.

Kate designed her wedding cake to match its surroundings. She took into account that her wedding reception was to be held in the Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace. The room has high ceilings so she chose a cake that towered but was not too tall or thin. She wanted something with presence. Architectural elements in the room, for instance, garlands on the walls, were reproduced loosely on the fourth tier piping: roses, acorns, ivy leaves, apple blossom and bridal roses. The cakemaker would not reveal her exact recipe but did disclose that she used a range of produce from dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas to walnuts, cherries, grated oranges and lemon, French brandy and free-range eggs and flour to create her historic confection.

Of course, the centerpiece of the exhibit was Kate’s wedding dress and veil. An ongoing tradition, viewing royal wedding gowns has wide public appeal. For instance, Princess Diana‘s 1981 Elizabeth Emanuel wedding gown continues to be viewed and is currently part of a travelling exhibition. 

Kate and the Queen view Kate's wedding gown display in Buckingham Palace. July 20, 2011.

Upon viewing the installation of Kate’s wedding dress and veil, the Queen was heard to exclaim, 

“Horrid, isn’t it? Horrid and dreadful!”

 

The Queen is not amused.

The ivory and white Alexander McQueen gown is displayed in a dark and gloomy fashion with the veil and tiara hovering eerily above. 

The Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown is displayed without a mannequin.

It appeared the mannequin’s lack of a head may have upset the Queen.

Source: HuffStyle 

Readers: For more on Lisa’s History Room about the British Royal Family, click here.

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William and Kate drive Prince Charles' Aston Martin through the streets of London on their wedding day, thrilling the crowds.

Following a post-nuptials luncheon buffet for 650 guests given by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, Prince William took his new bride Kate out for a spin in his father’s vintage Aston Martin. The crowd in the street was taken by surprise to see the royal couple, the newly-christened Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, appear on the streets so spontaneously, and sent up mighty cheers, applause, and laughter as the 41-year-old blue sportscar rolled by. William and Kate waved and smiled as they passed the wildly exuberant crowds lining the curbs, waving British flags.

On the front of the car was a large red letter “L”  which stands for “learners permit” bordered by 4 red hearts. Red, white, and blue ribbons and bows decorated the front bonnet. White bows and colored party balloons -two bearing the initials C and W and others shaped like hearts and stars – fluttered gaily from the rear bumper. The novelty license plate proclaimed JU5T WED.

Prince William is distracted from his driving as an RAF helicopter salutes him overhead. Note the special license plate for his wedding day.

The royal car is said to have been specially decorated by that fun-loving prankster Prince Harry.

Best man Prince Harry waves to the crowd as he makes the journey by carriage procession to Buckingham Palace following the Royal Wedding of his brother, Prince William, to the lovely Miss Catherine Middleton.

A Range Rover followed close behind the snazzy convertible. Overhead a yellow Sea King Search and Rescue helicopter with the B Flight 22 Squadron did a flyby to honor the Prince on his wedding day. Prince William is an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter pilot with the same squadron based in Anglesey, Wales.  

RAF colleagues of Prince William did a flyby over Buckingham Palace on his wedding day.

The couple, who had just that morning exchanged televised wedding vows at Westminster Abbey before a worldwide audience of millions, were on their way up the Mall, 500 yards away, to Clarence House, where they would change their clothes for the night’s festivities.

William had already changed clothes once. He had worn a red Irish Guards tunic as he tied the knot but, for the drive down the Mall, had swapped the tunic for an Irish Guards frock coat. In the open auto, Kate still wore the Alexander McQueen wedding dress 

Prince William and the former Miss Kate Middleton, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, pose joyously for their official wedding pictures in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. April 29, 2011

“a glorious sweep of ivory and white silk gazar with hand-embroidered English and French Chantilly lace and 58 organza-covered buttons snaking up the back. It had a discreet v-neck, long lace sleeves and a train that measured nearly nine feet long. Middleton’s slender waistline was emphasized by the gown’s narrow bodice and slight padding at the hips—a nod to Victorian style.”

As for that spiffy sportscar….

Queen Elizabeth had given the Seychelles blue Aston Martin Volante DB6 MKII to her son Prince Charles in 1969 as a 21st birthday gift. The Prince of Wales -who is environmentally sensitive – converted it to run on sustainable fuel in 2008. It now uses E85 bioethanol, made from English wine wastage. The car is said to be roughly valued at £350,000.

Below is an old photo of Prince Charles taking his wife at the time, Princess Diana, William’s late mother, for a spin in the same Aston Martin convertible.

In this undated photo, Prince Charles and Princess Diana are seen driving away in the Prince's blue Aston Martin.

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family and the Royal Wedding, click here.

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Newlyweds William and Kate pose in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace with his family on our left, her family, the Middletons on our right, and members of the wedding party. On Kate's right include at far right, Kate's sister Philippa, brother James, mother Carole, and father Michael. To the far left of the picture is William's stepmother, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, father, Charles, Prince of Wales, brother Prince Harry, and grandparents, seated, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.

On April 29, 2011 at 8 a.m., the day Prince William of Wales married Kate Middleton, officials at Buckingham Palace announced that, in accordance with royal tradition and on recognition of the day by Queen Elizabeth, William was created Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus. The Queen gave Kate a new princess title: Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus. 

Even though Kate now has an official princess title, she will not and cannot be called Princess Catherine. Why not?  Unlike the majority of royal brides, and in contrast to most previous consorts-in-waiting for over 350 years, Catherine does not come from a royal or aristocratic background and therefore has no title of her own. Some of the royals — Princess Margaret, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, for example — can use the designation because they were born into blue blood clan. 

 

May 6, 1985: Princess Diana holds baby Prince Harry, Prince Charles holds toddler Prince William.

Princess Diana was a blue blood when she married William’s father, Prince Charles. She was never officially declared “Princess Diana.” She styled herself in this fashion, much as the Queen’s mother became “Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother” when he daughter assumed the throne. 

None of this is set in stone, however, as the Queen could make Kate a “Princess of the United Kingdom,” which would then entitle her to be called Princess Catherine. 

Could we then call her Princess Kate? 

Readers, for more on the British royal wedding and family, click here.

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The Royal Wedding: Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, travel to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau, along the Procession Route, after their wedding in Westminster Abbey in London, April 29, 2011. Kate is wearing the Queen's Cartier "halo" tiara, on loan for the occasion.

Every bride wears something borrowed and, for Kate Middleton, that special something belongs to the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, who became Kate’s grandmother upon marriage. On loan for her royal wedding, the newly ennobled Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, anchored her veil with the demure diamond sparkler.

Royal Wedding: Kate Middleton's veil was of silk ivory tulle with hand-embroidered lace flowers.

The 1936 tiara, which was purchased by King George VI for the Queen Mother, was presented to the Queen on her 18th birthday, Buckingham Palace confirmed with the Daily Mail.

Royal Wedding: Kate Middleton dazzles with her smile and diamond sparklers.

Other sparklers, besides her beautiful smile, were Kate’s earrings:

With her hair swept behind her ears, Middleton wore leaf-shaped diamond earrings by Robinson Pelham, which were made to match her tiara. They also featured a diamond set drop and pavé set diamond suspended in the center.
The earrings were a gift from her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton.

 

Pelham’s design for the earrings was inspired by the Middleton family’s new coat of arms, which includes acorns and oak leaves.

In advance of her marriage to Prince William of Great Britain, Catherine "Kate" Middleton and family were granted a new coat of arms.

The three acorns represent Mr. and Mrs. Middleton’s three children (Catherine, Philippa and James). Acorns were chosen because the area in which the children were brought up – West Berkshire, England – is surrounded by oak trees, a symbol of both England and strength.

The gold chevron at the center of the design represents Kate’s mother, Carole,  whose maiden name is Goldsmith. The two thinner chevrons flanking the gold chevron represent hills and mountains, symbolizing the family’s love for the great outdoors. The colours blue and red are the principal colours from the flag of the United Kingdom.

Approved by the Queen, Miss Middleton’s personal Coat of Arms has been presented in the form of a ‘lozenge’ and is shown suspended from a ribbon, which indicates that Kate, at the time, was an unmarried daughter.

Readers: For more posts on the British Royal Family, click here.

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May 6 1985: Princess Diana, Prince Charles and their sons Harry and William on board royal yacht Britannia in Venice.

It’s 1985. Prince Charles and Princess Diana have been married close to five years. He’s 37; she’s 24. They have two young and healthy sons. Charles and Di have everything. They are rich and famous and, by all rights, should be happy. They seem happy in most photos. But they are not. Their marriage is in trouble but it will be another 11 years before it crashes for good.

Princess Diana arrives at the Royal Opera House, London. Dec. 1985

It’s December – Christmastime – and the two of them are out on the town together in London. It’s a special night. They are seated at the Royal Box at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It’s a VIP evening for “Friends of Covent Garden,” composed of skits and entertainment for special patrons. Silly things happen at this event – dancers sing, singers dance, and, occasionally, a celebrity might turn up on stage unexpectedly and wow the audience. Just the previous year, matter of fact, Charles and Di had done that very thing. They had performed a skit together – as Romeo and Juliet –  and the Prince had sung an ad jingle, “Just One Cornetto.”

Back to December 1985. The show is drawing to a close. Imagine Charles’s surprise when, just two numbers before the end of the show, Diana slips from the Royal Box and, minutes later, emerges on stage. She is going to perform! She wears a slinky white dress and begins dancing seductively to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” 

Princess Diana and Wayne Sleep dance to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" at Covent Garden, December 1985.

Uptown Girl

She’s been living in her uptown world

I bet she’s never had a backstreet guy

I bet her mama never told her why

Diana – at 5’10” – towers over her dance partner, Wayne Sleep. At 5’2″, Sleep is the shortest dancer ever admitted into the Royal Ballet School. He recalled his pas de deux with the princess that night

The Prince nearly fell out of his chair, especially when [Diana] did the kicks over my head….I was worried she’d fall apart under the spotlight, but she totally carried it off. Not many people could handle being under such scrutiny in front of an insiderly audience on that huge Covent Garden stage. She showed natural star quality.” (1)

Everyone – except Charles – is thrilled by Diana’s performance. She receives a standing ovation and eight curtain calls. At a reception afterwards, Sleep recalled that Charles was aloof, making it embarrassingly clear that he disapproved of Diana’s performance (or was he just plain jealous because he wasn’t asked to participate?). Diana had rehearsed for weeks in secret and was performing just to please Charles. Again, her efforts fall short. Of course, we know now why she couldn’t please him. He didn’t need her. He had Camilla.

Where did Diana get the personal courage to perform a seductive dance in front of 2,600 people?  Well, thank Nancy Reagan for giving Di the opportunity to shine at something she was good at. Just a month before, Diana had danced with John Travolta (at Nancy’s request) at a gala White House dinner given by the Reagans, dazzling Washington and the world with her youthful beauty, dancing grace, and sex appeal.

John Travolta and Princess Diana dance in the East Room of the White House, November 1986. Standing up to welcome Prince Charles and Princess Diana, President Reagan, in after-dinner remarks, flubbed the princess's name. Standing up in welcome, the president offered a toast to Prince Charles and "his lovely lady, Princess David."

By the time she returned to London, everyone was abuzz with Diana’s splashy American visit:

The Princess of Wales had become a walking monument – British opinion polls said she was the country’s greatest tourist attraction….One national survey calculated that from 1983-1985, she had generated $66.6 million in revenue from magazines, books, and tourists.” (2)

“Shy Di looking up through the eyelashes” had gone off to America but Confident Di had returned in her place. She made Buckingham Palace nervous – and with good reason. It could no longer control her.

(1) Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

(2) Kelley, Kitty. The Royals. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1997.

Readers: For more on Princess Diana and the British Royal Family, click here.

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British royal Prince William of Wales and his girlfriend Kate Middleton at the 2009 Audi Polo Match

Is Prince William of Wales finally going to propose to his girlfriend of nine years, Kate Middleton? Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast, says so. She predicts the engagement will be announced by Buckingham Palace on June 3 or 4 of this year.

Kate Middleton – known as “Waity Katie”  in the British press – has dated Prince William since they met in 2001 at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland. They have been together almost continuously, even living together. (1)

Woolworth's High Street Store in Great Britain anticipated a 2007 royal wedding between Kate Middleton and Prince William of Wales. They were so sure a ceremony was imminent that they unveiled designs for mugs, thimbles, mouse mats, and even sweets bearing a picture of the Prince and his sweetheart in 2006. Unfortunately, Kate and William broke up shortly after this announcement and Woolworth's was forced to scrap this line of merchandise. It is unlikely the product line will be revived as William no longer resembles the 2006 photo. He no longer sports a boyish look as his hairline has receded considerably since then.

Tina Brown’s column has caused a surge in speculation, Brown, the famous ex-Vanity Fair and ex-New Yorker editor and best-selling biographer of William’s mother, Princess Diana, is known to have excellent sources in Buckingham Palace, although the Palace has denied her prediction. Nevertheless, British tabloids like The Daily Mail went nuts thinking about a royal wedding in the future with headlines like,

“She’ll Wear Diana’s Tiara!”

Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997), wears her Cambridge Love Knot Tiara

Americans got feverishly excited, too. People magazine put William and Kate on the cover last month under the headline, “The Next Princess!” Inside, was a report that William was overheard calling Kate’s father “Dad” while they were all on a ski holiday in the French Alps in March 2010. (2)

(2) “A Date for William & Kate?” USA TODAY, May 13, 2010.

Readers: You might also enjoy “Princess Diana’s Wedding Tiara.”  For more posts on the British Royal Monarchy, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories”/”Royalty.”

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1854. They had been married 14 years and are both about 34 years old. This is the first time Victoria had been photographed. Queen Victoria reigned as Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837-1901 and as the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1876 -1901. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history. The time of her reign is known as the Victorian Era, a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom.

Throughout their 21-year marriage, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria delighted in showering each other with gifts of art. A new major exhibition of the Royal Collection (March 19-October 31, 2010) at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is the first ever to focus on the royal couple’s shared enthusiasm for art. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love” showcases over 400 paintings, drawings, photographs, jewelry, and sculpture from the years of their courtship (1836-1839) and marriage (1840) until Albert’s untimely death of typhoid (1861).

Gold, enamel, and tooth brooch belonging to Queen Victoria (1847, probably commissioned by Prince Albert)

Many trinkets exchanged between the royal couple were sentimental in nature, marking special occasions in the royal household, such as this gold and enamel brooch, seen for the first time ever. This unusual and tiny brooch in the form of a thistle has, as its flower, the first milk tooth lost by the firstborn of their nine children, Princess Victoria (1840-1901). An inscription on the reverse states the tooth was pulled by Prince Albert at Ardverikie (Loch Laggan), on September 13, 1847. (To see more of Victoria’s jewelry made with teeth, click here.)

Princess Victoria was the subject of many art commissions; her parents were overjoyed at her birth because she almost wasn’t born. When the Queen was four months pregnant, she had been the target of a failed assassination attempt. Edward Oxford fired two shots at her as she and Prince Albert rode up Constitution Hill in a carriage in June of 1840. Fortunately, neither the queen, prince, or the unborn Princess Royal was harmed.

An attempt is made to assassinate Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, June 10. 1840, as the Queen rides up Constitution Hill with Prince Albert. Oxford was arrested for high treason, tried, and acquitted by reason of insanity.

Prince Albert was a man of many talents. He designed many of Queen Victoria’s jewels, including this 1842 brooch featuring a miniature of Princess Victoria as a bejewelled angel.

Queen Victoria's enamel, gold, and jewel brooch, 1842, with a miniature of Princess Victoria as an angel, Prince Albert, designer; William Essex, after William Ross, miniaturist

The queen appreciated Albert’s talent in jewelry design. She wrote:

“Albert has such taste & arranges everything for me about my jewels.”

In addition to designing the queen’s personal jewelry, Prince Albert designed many pieces of her state jewelry. He designed most of her tiaras, including the Oriental Circlet, also a part of this year’s special exhibition.

Queen Victoria's State Jewelry: "The Oriental Circlet," 1853. Diamonds, rubies, gold. The inspiration for the design of this tiara, which includes ‘Moghul’ arches framing lotus flowers, came from Prince Albert who had been greatly impressed by the Indian jewels presented to the Queen by the East India Company.

Readers, you might also enjoy: “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”

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Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's 1944 marriage to Billy Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, an Anglican, infuriated the intensely Catholic Rose Kennedy, who refused to attend the wedding. Widowed just four months later, Kathleen fell in love with a very married man, Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, and became his mistress. Rose was further incensed - because he, like Billy, wasn't a Catholic. Over her mother's objections, Kathleen and Peter planned to wed after his divorce. Instead, in a 1948 trip to the south of France, they both died in a plane crash. No one but Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral in Devonshire, England, in the Cavendish family plot. It has been said that Rose Kennedy discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending the service of their sister.

Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary Kennedy, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's lively personality made her a great hit among the British social set. In 1944, Kathleen made what many considered a brilliant marriage to William "Billy" Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, the heir to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. Kathleen became the Marchioness of Harrington. Her mother, however, was incensed that Kathleen would marry an Anglican and refused to attend the wedding ceremony. Only Kathleen's eldest brother, Joe Kennedy, Jr., attended. Then, four months later, Billy was killed in the war and Kathleen became a widow. It wasn't long before Kathleen was back in the social whirl of London parties and country estate weekends, and with a new man - a married man. He was Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam. Kathleen fell madly for him and publicly became his mistress. Rose was furious - but not why you think. She was incensed because Peter - like Kathleen's first husband, Billy - was an Anglican and not a Catholic. Nevertheless, over her mother's objections, Kathleen planned to wed Peter after his divorce, Catholic or not. Their wedding never came about. In a 1948 trip to the south of France, both Peter and Kathleen died in an airplane crash. Still furious with Kathleen, Rose Kennedy did not attend her daughter's funeral and discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending. Only Kathleen's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral service. Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish was buried in the Cavendish family plot in Devonshire, England. There her body remains today.

Factbox: Kennedy Political Dynasty Marked By Tragedy

By REUTERS
Published: August 26, 2009

(Compiled from Web sites by the World Desk Americas)

The lives of Kennedy family members, noted for their extraordinary accomplishments, have also been marked by tragedy, including the assassinations of President John Kennedy and of Senator Robert Kennedy.

Following is a chronology of some of the tragedies that befell the storied U.S. political dynasty:

1941: Rosemary Kennedy, (pictured here), the oldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who was mentally disabled, was institutionalized for the rest of her life after a lobotomy reduced her abilities. She died in 2005.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

1944: Joseph Kennedy Jr., the oldest of the nine Kennedy children, died at age 29 in a plane crash over the English Channel during World War Two while flying a mission.

1948: Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, the fourth of the Kennedy children, was killed in a plane crash in France at age 28.

1963: President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22 while riding in a presidential motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas, at age 46.

1964: Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest in the family, narrowly escaped death in a plane crash that killed an aide.

1968: Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 in Los Angeles at age 42, just after he won California’s Democratic presidential primary election.

1969: Edward Kennedy drove off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. An aide in the car with him, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the accident.

1984: David Kennedy, a son of Robert, died of a drug overdose at age 28.

1997: Another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, Michael, died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado, at age 39.

1999: John Kennedy Jr. along with his wife and sister-in-law were killed when the plane he was flying crashed in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

For more on the Kennedys, scroll down the right sidebar in “Categories – People – the Kennedys.”

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photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz
photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz photographed Queen Elizabeth. Here’s what she had to say about that experience.
Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, published by Random House © 2008

The Queen

In 2007, a few weeks before Queen Elizabeth visited the United States for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, I was asked to take her portrait. I was the first American to be asked by the Palace to make an official portrait of the Queen, which was very flattering. I felt honored. I also felt that because I was an American I had an advantage over every other photographer or painter who had made a portrait of her. It was O.K. for me to be reverent. The British are conflicted about what they think of the monarch. If a British portraitist is reverent, he’s perceived to be doting. I could do something traditional.

It’s ironic that the sitting with the Queen became controversial. I’m rather proud of having been in control of a complicated shoot. The controversy arose about two months after the pictures were published, when the BBC claimed that the Queen had walked out while we were shooting. This was completely untrue, and although they retracted the claim and issued an apology to the Queen and to me almost immediately, the scandal had a life of its own. The story, which came to be referred to as Queengate, wouldn’t die. Eventually the head of BBC One resigned over it.

When I was preparing for the shoot, I thought about using the landscape around Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. I brought this up in the very first conference call with the Palace. I said that Americans thought of the Queen as an outdoorswoman. I had been influenced by Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen and I couldn’t help mentioning how much I liked her character in that film. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

The second idea I had, after Balmoral, was to photograph the Queen on horseback. I asked where she rode and they said she went riding every Saturday at Windsor Castle. I said that I would love to see her in her riding clothes, and in a later conversation I asked if she could stop during her weekend ride and get off her horse and mount it again. That is, could I do a portrait of her in the trees. They said, No, it was not possible. She just rode the horse and came back, and, anyway, she didn’t wear riding clothes anymore. A few days later they said it was going to be Buckingham Palace and no horses.

I realized that I was going to need some time on the ground for this. When we arrived in London, we went straight to the palace and were shown all the rooms, including the throne room—everywhere except the private quarters. And then we scouted the back. There was a wintery sky and the trees didn’t have leaves. It was an appropriate mood for this moment in the Queen’s life. There was no way, however, that she was going to stand outside in formal attire.

For a sitting like this you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You try to have as many options as possible. I kept thinking that somehow I would get the Queen outside, but I began choosing formal outfits. I narrowed the robes down to a very handsome Order of the Garter cape, but then we were told that she could wear only a white dress under it. We were lobbying for a gold dress. I was also hoping for a dress with more body to it. The Queen wears very streamlined dresses now that she’s older, and I wanted her in something with more volume. But she didn’t have anything like that. Finally everyone agreed that she could wear a gold-and-white dress under the Order of the Garter robe. The Queen was 80 years old. She was sturdy, but putting on and taking off a lot of heavy clothes is tiring, and she had to be dressed in layers to expedite things. The gold-white dress became the base.

I was still upset that I couldn’t get her outside. It was so beautiful out there. And it wasn’t cold or raining or anything. I began thinking about what Cecil Beaton had done. He brought in flowered backdrops. Beaton was big on backdrops. He made very stagy portraits. Perhaps because the pictures were made in black and white you don’t notice the backdrops. They sort of go out of focus. I realized that I could do something similar digitally. I decided to photograph the garden and the trees for a backdrop.

The Palace had given us 25 minutes with the Queen, so there had to be a battle plan. I chose a grand reception room, the White Drawing Room, as the principal setting because of the light from the tall windows. Supplementary lights had been pre-set so that when the Queen moved from one spot to another all we needed to do was switch them on. We had constructed a gray canvas backdrop in an anteroom, and she was to come in there wearing the Order of the Garter robe and the dress, but no tiara. The first shot was to be made on a balcony, with the sky behind her. That sky could be digitally exchanged later for the pictures I had taken in the gardens the day before. I didn’t want her to be wearing a tiara in the gardens.

The morning of the shoot, the Queen came walking down the hall very purposefully. She was definitely a force. This was all being taped by the BBC for a documentary. I would never have agreed to their being there if I felt I had any choice, but they had been following her around for months. Their microphone picked up her saying, “I’ve had enough of dressing like this, thank you very much,” as she marched down the hall. Later, when segments of footage for the BBC were edited for a promotional film, it appeared as if the Queen were stomping out of the photo session rather than going into it. Thus the brouhaha.

The Queen was about 20 minutes late, which we thought was a little strange. When that happens, you never know if it can be made up on the other end. My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, had come with us, and she curtsied and offered the Queen flowers, and I introduced my team. At this point I was in shock. The Queen had the tiara on. That was not the plan. It was supposed to be added later. The dresser knew that. The Queen started saying, “I don’t have much time. I don’t have much time,” and I took her to the first setup and showed her the pictures of the gardens. I think she understood what we had in mind. Then I walked her into the drawing room, probably sooner than I would have if things had been going well. She composed herself when I took some pictures.

I knew how tight everything was, especially with the loss of 20 minutes, and I asked the Queen if she would remove the tiara. (I used the word “crown,” which was a faux pas.) I suggested that a less dressy look might be better. And she said, “Less dressy! What do you think this is?” I thought she was being funny. English humor. But I noticed that the dresser and everyone else who had been working with her were staying about 20 feet away from her.

We removed the big robe, and I took the picture of the Queen looking out the window, and then I said, Listen, I was a little thrown when you first came in, and I have one more picture I’d like to try, with an admiral’s boat cloak. I was thinking of one of Cecil Beaton’s last pictures of the Queen. A very stark and simple and strong portrait in which she’s wearing a boat cloak. We went back into the anteroom, where the gray canvas backdrop had been set up, and she took off the tiara and put on the cloak. That’s the shot we digitally imposed on pictures of the garden.

Right after we finished, I went up to the press secretary and said how much I loved the Queen. How feisty she was. Later I mentioned to a couple of friends that she had been a bit cranky, but it was nothing unusual. What was remarkable about the shoot, and I wrote the Queen a note about this later, was something the BBC missed: her resolve, her devotion to duty. She stayed until I said it was over. Until I said, “Thank you.” We were finished a little before our allotted 25 minutes were up.

 

Readers, for more on this episode, read my post, “The Queen is Mad.”

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the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II

the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II

Here is a typical weekday morning for Queen Elizabeth II while in residence at  Buckingham Palace in London:

7:30  The maid enters her bedroom with a tray of  morning tea: 2 silver pots of Earl Grey, milk, and a few biscuits. The cup and saucer are bone china. The linen napkin bears the royal cypher “EIIR” (Elizabeth II Regent). The maid sets down the tray on a bedside table and crosses the room to open the bedroom curtains. She then turns on the radio which is tuned to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The Queen listens to the day’s news as she sips her tea. Outside her window the traffic on Constitution Hill is building and people are strolling through Green Park. The maid draws a bath.

While the Queen is bathing, the maid lays out the first of perhaps many outfits the Queen will wear that day, depending upon the royal schedule. Once the Queen is dressed, the Queen’s hairdresser styles her hair.

8:30  The Queen joins her husband Prince Philip for breakfast which is served in the first floor dining room that overlooks the Palace garden. Prince Philip has had a shower and coffee. During their breakfast together, the Prince may place little morsels of food on the bird feeder outside the window. A tail-coated footman brings the breakfast – whole wheat toast with marmalade and more tea and coffee. The Queen reads her papers: The Daily Telegraph and The Racing Post.

9:00  The Piper to the Sovereign – referred to as the “Queen’s Piper” – steps into the Palace garden. He is wearing a kilt of Royal Stewart tartan and two eagle feathers in his headwear.  The Queen and Prince Philip listen as he tunes his bagpipes. For the next fifteen minutes, the Queen’s Piper plays a selection of bagpipe tunes below the dining room window.

9:30  The Queen is seated at her Chippendale desk in her office to begin reviewing her correspondence. A footman comes in with her corgis, who have just had their morning walk in the garden. She works all morning. After lunch, she may take the dogs for a walk herself.

This 1994 People magazine photograph shows Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland hideaway every August. Whether at Balmoral, Windsor Castle, or Buckingham Palace, the Queen's weekdays start with a fifteen-minute bagpipe serenade. When at Balmoral, the pipers wear the Balmoral tartan.

Above, a 1994 People magazine photograph shows Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland hideaway she retreats to every August. Whether at Balmoral, Windsor Castle, or Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s weekdays start with a fifteen-minute bagpipe serenade at 9 a.m. When at Balmoral, though, the pipers wear the Balmoral tartan.

For more on Queen Elizabeth II, look in the left column “Categories-People-Queen Elizabeth II.” I’ve written many posts on the Queen; I hope you enjoy them!

 

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Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

He wasn’t the first person to scale the garden wall of Buckingham Palace. The year before, three German tourists had done it. While there had been others who’d breached Palace security, Michael Fagan was to become one of the most infamous.

1982 Buckingham Palace Intruder Michael Fagan

1982 Buckingham Palace Intruder Michael Fagan

It was 7:15 a.m. on July 9, 1982. Michael Fagan, 31, had been up all night, drinking whisky, and wandering London’s dark streets, brooding. He had just been released from the psychiatric ward at Brixton Prison. The judge had sent him there after he slashed his wrists with a broken bottle during his court hearing on charges that he stabbed his teenage stepson in the neck with a screwdriver. (1)

Fagan was discouraged. He was broke and faced a mountain of debt. His wife was unfaithful. There were problems with his kids and even his mum. The voices in his head told him to go and tell the Queen how unhappy he was and she would help. The voices told him he could do it. These were the same voices that before had talked him into climbing the towers of the bridges across the Thames River and to strip off his clothes and dive into the Grand Union Canal.

A guard at Buckingham Palace

A guard at Buckingham Palace

It was 7:15 on the morning of July 9, 1982 when Fagan, unshaven and dressed in jeans and a dirty t-shirt, gathered up his courage, climbed over the black iron fence of Buckingham Palace, and dropped down on the grounds of the royal residence. No guards noticed. He found an open window and crawled in. But the Queen wasn’t in that room, it held only an old stamp collection (King George V’s $20 million stamp collection). Fagan was not a thief. He wanted only to find the Queen. An alarm was tripped twice, but the policeman at the palace sub-station thought it was malfunctioning and turned it off both times.

Fagan then went back out into the courtyard and spied a 55 foot drainpipe that lead to the second floor. “I climbed it in seconds,” he proudly told interviewers later. “I was a Prince of the Earth.” He pulled back some wire meant to keep pigeons away and crawled in a window. He found himself in the office of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore, the man responsible for the Queen’s security. He took off his sandals and socks and proceeded to explore the Palace barefoot with dirty hands.

Princess Elizabeth, age 9 or 10, comforts her corgi Dookie, 1936

Princess Elizabeth, age 9 or 10, comforts her corgi Dookie, 1936

This wasn’t the first time Fagan had broken into the Palace. Only the month before, he’d had a practice run. He’d entered through an unlocked window on the roof and wandered about for a half hour. He viewed the royal portraits and rested on the thrones before entering the Postroom, where he drank half a bottle of California white wine before leaving.

On this, his second, visit to the Palace, Fagan was on a mission. He had to find the Queen. He wandered the corridors in search of her, and, on the way, cutting his hand on a glass ashtray. When he spied some dog dishes on the floor, he knew the Queen was near. She was never far from her precious dogs (See previous post, “Queen Elizabeth’s Corgis and Dorgis.”) He passed a housemaid who said, “Good morning,” then entered the Queen’s bedroom.

The Queen awoke to find a strange man sitting on the edge of her bed, cradling a broken ashtray and dripping blood on her bed linens. She kept calm and picked up the phone, asking the operator to summon the police. The operator did call the police but they didn’t come. She pushed the button for a chambermaid yet no one appeared. The armed guard regularly stationed at the Queen’s bedroom door was not at his post; he had taken her dogs out for a walk. Meanwhile, Fagan talked away, still sitting on her bed. He wanted to talk about love but the Queen didn’t. He thought it a coincidence that both he and the Queen had four children. Fagan wanted a cigarette. Again, the Queen called the palace switchboard yet no one responded.

After the Queen had spent ten minutes with the mentally disturbed, bleeding intruder, a chambermaid entered the Queen’s quarters and exclaimed, “Bloody hell, ma’am! What’s he doing in there?” The chambermaid then ran out and woke up a footman who then seized the intruder. The police arrived twelve minutes after the Queen’s first call.

When the public learned of this incident, they were outraged at the lapse of security around their Queen. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally apologized to the Queen and measures were immediately taken to strengthen palace security.

Nevertheless, a 1999 report by the Royal Protection Squad stated that, in the six years previous, at least 6,000 mentally-ill persons had visited British royal residences or written to the royal family. Most of the mentally-disturbed people are harmless, the report stated, but the police guarding royalty are still trained to handle the few intruders who do indeed pose a danger. 

A man protests at Buckingham Palace, insisting upon his right to appear in public naked

A man protests at Buckingham Palace, insisting upon his right to appear in public naked

Over the years, the Royals have attracted unwanted attention from, among others, a group of lesbian anti-nuclear demonstrators who scaled the walls with ladders, and an American paraglider who landed on the roof as a stunt.

 

(1) Erickson, Carolly. Lilibet: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II. (New York: St. Martin’s, 2004)

 

For more on Queen Elizabeth II, look in the left column under “Categories – People – Queen Elizabeth II.” I’ve written many posts on the Queen; I hope you enjoy them!

For more on Insane Asylums, scroll to the very bottom of “Categories – The Insane Asylum.”

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Queen Elizabeth's Launer handbag (4/1/09 Buckingham Palace with Obamas)

Queen Elizabeth's Launer handbag (4/1/09 Buckingham Palace with Obamas)

Since I’ve been blogging about Queen Elizabeth in general and her purse-carrying habit in particular, I’ve looked at a lot of of images of the Queen carrying purses. She seems to prefer small, unfussy black leather handbags, though she has carried a white purse before, I know. At first, the black leather handbags looked as if they could be just one bag. Closer inspection revealed slight differences in straps, patinas, and shapes. In all the bags I scrutinized, though, one theme was a constant. The clasp on the different bags was always the same. The clasp was distinctive  – covered with a gold rope emblem. The clasp looked like a string you tie on your finger to remember something. Was it a logo, perhaps? I sensed a designer lurking about.

 I was slow to catch on. Of course. The Queen doesn’t buy her purses off the rack at Macy’s; she has a royal pursemaker. That’s why the purses looked so similar. They were made by the same company.

Queen Elizabeth in Jamestown (5/4/2007) with handbag

Queen Elizabeth in Jamestown (5/4/2007) with handbag

A little further digging for the name of the designer turned up a lot of information. Evidently, not only does Her Royal Highness have a royal pursemaker to make her purses – Launer’s of London – but also a royal milliner to make her hats and a royal dressmaker to make her dresses. Currently, three British royals, The Queen, her husband Prince Philip ( AKA the Duke of Edinburgh) and their son Prince Charles (AKA the Prince of Wales) may grant “Royal Warrants of Appointment” to tradespeople who supply goods or services to a royal court or certain royal personages. The warrant allows the supplier to advertise the fact that they supply to the royal family. The Royal Warrant does not mean that these specially-honored companies must then give the Royals their goods and services for free. Rather, suppliers both continue to charge their royal customers as well as reap incredible bonuses in the marketplace courtesy of the royal endorsement.

Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth's coat-of-arms

Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth's coat-of-arms

Launer's "Royale" handbag

Launer's "Royale" handbag

Launer of London holds the Royal Warrant for supplying the Queen with her leather goods and purses. On the “About Us” page on the Launer company website, the Queen’s coat-of-arms is displayed boldly at the top left and right of the page. Under the company’s history, we read that:

photo of Queen Elizabeth II on the Launer company website

photo of Queen Elizabeth II on the Launer company website

In 1991, Her Majesty the Queen visited the factory on 4th March, spending virtually the whole afternoon with all the employees and seeing all the various stages of making both handbags and personal leather goods. This was a great honour for the company, and in the following year Launer was also given the right to add leather goods to the warrant.

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