One IS amused: From food fights to one-liners, the Queen can't resist a good laugh
21:54 GMT, 25 May 2012
There are few more formal occasions in the Royal calendar than the journey by horse-drawn carriage from Windsor Castle to the racecourse at Royal Ascot.
A stickler for tradition, the Queen was riding in the open landau with the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles when a Cockney voice rang out above the cheers of the crowds.
The Queen smiled and gesticulated enthusiastically. ‘What did he say’ asked Charles. With perfect mimicry the Queen replied, ‘He said, “Gizza wave, Liz”,’ and dissolved in laughter.
Oh, what a laugh! Queen Elizabeth II pictured with her husband Prince Philip
The moment was overheard by then Royal footman Paul Burrell who, like staff past and present, has long been aware of the Queen’s twinkling sense of humour. Indeed, one former ambassador to the US went as far as to say, ‘In private, she has the most girlish giggle you can think of.’ When Michael Fagan broke into her bedroom in 1982 she was not only unfazed, but afterwards repeated with relish to her family the reaction of her Yorkshire chambermaid: ‘Bloody ’ell, Ma’am. What’s ’e doing ’ere’
But her humour extends beyond just mimicry. When she was sitting for a portrait with the late artist Lucian Freud, the Queen confided that she’d hired one of her protection officers to guard the crown she was wearing for the picture after a drama at a pheasant shoot.
Growing up, the princess earned a reputation as a mischievous child. One Christmas dinner, ‘Lilibet’ as she was called then, clambered on to the table and pelted the guests with crackers
‘I was picking up after the guns as I always do when a wounded cock pheasant scratched me and drew blood. The detective assumed I’d been shot, threw himself on top of me and began giving me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I consider we got to know each other rather well.’
Another time, during a trip to an art gallery, she was surrounded by a series of Freud’s paintings of female nudes. When the curator asked, ‘Haven’t you been painted by Lucian Freud, Ma’am’ the Queen smiled and replied, sotto voce, ‘Yes, but not like that.’
Growing up, the princess earned a reputation as a mischievous child. One Christmas dinner, ‘Lilibet’ as she was called then, clambered on to the table and pelted the guests with crackers, handed to her by her equally mischievous mother. When the Duke of Edinburgh, who affectionately calls her by the pet names ‘Cabbage’ and ‘Sausage’, grew a full set of naval whiskers during his four-month solo tour of the Commonwealth, he was greeted on his return in February 1957 by the Queen and, on her instruction, her entire entourage wearing false ginger beards.
The Queen and Prince Charles laugh as they watch competitors during the Braemar Gathering in 2006
In 2003 she made an unprecedented visit to Annabel’s nightclub for a friend’s 70th birthday party. She was seated for dinner next to Tory grandee Lord Salisbury. The following day she attended a ceremony at St Albans Cathedral and when the Dean saw Salisbury in the congregation, he asked her whether she knew him. She replied straight-faced, ‘Oh yes. He and I were in a nightclub until half past one this morning.’
The late former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath was often the butt of her humour. After his retirement she told a group of foreign heads of government that he was ‘extinct’. On another occasion, as the music-loving Heath boarded the Royal yacht Britannia, he was greeted by the Queen mimicking a conductor. ‘Are you still waving your stick about’ she asked him, poker-faced.
Racing commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan recalls trying to explain to the Queen in 1987 why her favourite jockey, Lester Piggott, had been jailed. ‘I told her all he’d done was merely deprive Customs and Excise of a small amount of tax revenue. She replied, tongue-in-cheek, “No. Lester has been very, very naughty.”’
And another racing figure, who was a guest at Windsor when the conversation was drowned by an aeroplane on its way to Heathrow, remembers the Queen saying, ‘Boeing 747.’ Moments later another flew overhead. ‘Airbus,’ she said. Throughout lunch she identified every plane that passed over. She roared with laughter when she shook hands with shot-putter Geoff Capes at the Braemar Highland Games in 1982 as their palms stuck together because of the resin he used for his grip, while in 2009, Jean Chrtien, Canada’s former Prime Minister, admitted the Queen had to bow her head to hide a fit of the giggles when he let out a swear word because his pen had broken.
And Harold Wilson used to like telling of the time when he was Prime Minister and Prince Charles was to accompany him on an official visit. The Queen summoned her son into the room and explained, in front of Wilson, that Charles would have to behave.
‘He is in loco parentis…’ she explained gravely. Translating with a peal of laughter for her son, she said, ‘That means he’s like your dad…’