By Marianne Beach, GalTime.com
PR Photos Imagine getting up close and personal with Her Majesty herself-Queen Elizabeth II-and hearing all the court secrets firsthand.
Journalist Robert Hardman has covered life with the royals for more than twenty years.
In his latest book, Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and Her Court, he offers up an intimate portrait of England's soon-to-be longest reigning Queen.
In anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebration this June (marking sixty years of the Queen's reign) we caught up with Robert on his book tour and asked him to spill a few secrets about Her Majesty and her famous family.
What prompted you write this book?
After years of reporting on the Royal Family, it dawned on me more and more that behind the veneer of tradition and pageantry, the Queen has actually done more to change the monarchy in the last 25 years than her predecessors managed in an entire century.
How and why has this innately conservative great-grandmother been this closet radical? Rather than write another biography, I wanted to write a portrait of a thoroughly modern Monarch. And I have been lucky enough to have more than two years of privileged access to the inner workings of the royal world. Among the highlights were interviews with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge - his first author interview - and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Describe some of your favorite interviews and interviewees in the Queen's Palace?
The Royal Household is a rich combination of ancient and modern. So you might have someone with a title like Keeper of the Privy Purse who turns out to be a razor-sharp international accountant. I was fascinated to discover that the footmen (several of whom are now women) do a work exchange programme with places like the Ritz Hotel to swap expertise on meet-and-greet techniques.
The kitchen staff might use a copper pan engraved with the initials of Queen Victoria to prepare a sauce but will use the latest kitchen gadget to prepare the meat.
When it comes to interviewing people inside the Palace, though, no one has such a broad range of interests or experience as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The success of the Queen's reign is due, to a great extent, to his support.
Over the years, I have interviewed him on subjects as diverse as the Russian Revolution (during which Bolsheviks murdered his Great Aunt) to his transformation of the royal estates (he has introduced a very successful farm shop and a very unsuccessful methane converter - it exploded) and his international equestrian success.
His creations range from the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme - which has changed the lives of millions of young people - to international prizes for everything from agriculture to bagpiping. An environmental activist years before it became a popular issue, he is a true one-off. When in London, he leaves the limousine behind and prefers to travel in his own London cab.
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What are 3 things we would be surprised to know about the queen?
Her attention to detail. The Queen likes to be fully briefed on every engagement right down to the minor details. She'll check every line of a speech. On one occasion, she was handed a draft address for her approval. It began: 'I am very glad to be back in Birmingham.' She picked up a pen and crossed out the word 'very'. It was not an insult to Birmingham, she explained. She just felt it smacked of insincerity.
Her continuity. She has been Queen for longer than half the world's nations have existed in their present form.
Her attitude to fame - and the colour beige. The Queen neither seeks nor enjoys the spotlight, despite being the most famous in the world. Prince William put it to me succinctly: 'She cares not for celebrity, that's for sure.' But she acknowledges that the Monarchy must be visible. 'I have to be seen to be believed,' is a frequent remark.
So, when she knows she is attending a packed event - like a garden party - she will always wear a bright colour. As she once remarked to a hat maker: 'I can't wear beige because people won't know who I am.' It is a remark which sums up her blend of modesty and practicality.
How is the Queen's relationship with William and Kate - and how are they settling in to mainstream royal life?
Last year's Royal Wedding was a very important moment for the Queen. Of course, as a grandmother, it was a wonderful day. But when you are running a thousand-year-old hereditary institution, it is very reassuring to see the next two generations happy, settled and secure.
The Queen is very keen that Prince William and his wife - now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - adapt to royal life in a way that works for them. So, she has ensured that they have their own team, own office and own independent advisers.
I went round to their HQ and it was surprisingly modest. Here were the most in-demand young couple in the country and they had just one study with two desks. They even had to share it with Prince Harry, too. It felt rather like a royal version of 'Friends'.
Prince William told me how much he values the support he gets from his grandmother. And, in recent weeks, we have seen the Queen touring the country with the young Duchess at her side while Prince William has been away with the Royal Air Force. It has been an endearing sight - the worldly veteran and the eager apprentice. Expect to see more of this.
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