Queen Elizabeth Book: 10 Points from the Sally Bedell Smith Biography

on January 17 2012 8:03 PM
Queen Elizabeth II
Sally Bedell Smith's book, "Elizabeth the Queen," looks at the world's most famous monarch. Reuters

A biography of the world's most famous royal, Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, reveals the person beneath the crown. Historian Sally Bedell Smith looks at the Queen as a monarch, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a woman.

Here are ten points from her biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen, social media pro?

Apparently, it took the Queen awhile to adapt to technology. She received her first computer from former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. Elizabeth II eventually took up cell phones to send text messages to her grandchildren, and computers to keep track of her horses, Smith wrote. At the suggestion of Prince Andrew, she acquired an iPod in 2005. While firmly committed to paper and pen, she began exchanging emails with family members. Ten years after launching the royal website in 1997, the Queen got her own channel on YouTube in December 2007, with a million hits in the first week.

A royal (and crude) sense of humor

The Queen was looking at artifacts in Jamestown, Virginia in 2007 and saw an iron spatula that was meant for severe constipation. She beckoned her traveling physician, Commander David Swain, who was always only a few steps away with his large black case containing vital medications and blood plasma, Smith wrote. Pointing at the crude implement, she exclaimed, 'You should have some things like that!'

Keeping up appearances

Unlike her mother, who was known as the Smiling Duchess for her consistent beam, the young Queen Elizabeth had a hard time maintaining a pleasant countenance in public. Meeting and greeting thousands of people at receptions and garden parties actually gave her a temporary facial tic, Smith wrote. The author added that As the Queen herself once ruefully acknowledged, 'The trouble is that unlike my mother, I don't have a naturally smiley face.'

Birth of Prince Charles

The young Elizabeth may have been a woman in line for the throne, but officials were still thrilled when they found out that her firstborn child was a boy. According to the book, Sir John Weir, one of the official physicians to the royal family, confided to Queen Elizabeth's private secretary, Major Thomas Harvey, that he'd 'never been so pleased to see a male organ in all his life.'

What does she carry in her purse?

A former football manager who sat next to the Queen at a 2009 luncheon got a peek inside of her purse. It was almost like a lady's prop with essential items, said Phil Brown. It had things that you would expect - makeup, [coin] purse, sweeteners she put in her coffee, the normal stuff. You expect that a lady-in-waiting would carry her handbag, but for the Queen, it was almost like a comfort blanket. Smith further revealed that the Queen's purse usually contains reading glasses, mint lozenges, and a fountain pen, although rarely cash, except for a precisely folded £5 or £10 note on Sundays for the church collection plate.

Break-in at Buckingham Palace

The book recounts the time 31-year-old Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and ended up in the Queen's bedroom. The Queen would later describe the event as surreal, but not before she reportedly handled it quite well. For ten minutes, she listened patiently, finding common ground in talking about their children and interjecting sympathetic comments even as she tried several times to summon help by pushing her emergency button and twice calling the Palace switchboard, Smith wrote.

Posing for pictures

In 2007, the Queen posed for photographer Annie Leibovitz while simultaneously being filmed for a documentary. She was caught in a harried state, far different from the composed demeanor she displays in public. Leibovitz later said she loved the Queen's 'feisty' personality and respected her willingness to fulfill her commitment, however tiring and stressful, Smith wrote.

Bowing at Diana's funeral

The Queen generated buzz when she bowed as her former daughter-in-law's carriage passed her by. The move was seen as a vivid demonstration 'that there was already a readiness to be more flexible,' said Ronald Allison, the Queen's former press secretary.

The Royal Wedding

The queen participated in the the planning and preparation for William and Catherine's April 2011 wedding, but she and her husband could only invite so many of their own guests. Even the Queen and Prince Philip had an allocation of only forty places, not unlike most twenty-something weddings, where the grandparents' circle is rarely in evidence.

Out of touch?

The Queen is a woman who knows her territory: An advantage Elizabeth II has had over all her prime ministers is her vast knowledge of the United Kingdom that she gathers in visits called 'awaydays' to cities as well as tiny hamlets. 'She knows every inch of this country in a way that no one else does,' said Charles Powell, who came to appreciate the Queen's expertise when he worked as private secretary to Margaret Thatcher and John Major. 'She spends so much time meeting people that she has an understanding of what other people's lives are like in Britain. I think she understands what the normal human condition is.'

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