The Queen is “the mistress of understatement”, says Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. In his new biography, Queen of Our Times, Robert Hardman recalls the moment when the monarch woke one morning to find a “strange man in her bedroom, dripping with blood, all ready to commit suicide”. She quietly pressed an alarm button but there was no response, so the then 56-year-old royal kept the intruder talking until a maid appeared. “In her position, most of us might have taken the rest of the morning off, but for the Queen it was business as usual, with an investiture at 11am.” When anyone congratulated her on her calm behaviour, she replied: “You seem to forget that I spend most of my time conversing with complete strangers.”
Too true. Over the course of her 95 years, it seems likely that the Queen has spoken to more strangers than anyone on the planet. Even with a modest estimate of 30 new people a day for most of her reign, the total runs to more than half a million. And surely there have been more words written about her than about anyone else alive. After all, “presidents, pop stars and politicians all have their moments in the sun but those moments seldom last longer than a decade or two”. Of course, a lot of these words aren’t to be trusted – in the first 15 years of her reign alone, the French press carried 63 reports that she was about to abdicate and 73 that she was about to divorce.
But the greatest misconception about the Queen, says Hardman, is that, like her moody character in Netflix’s The Crown, she is “joyless, inert, beleaguered”. Not at all: this is someone with boundless optimism and curiosity. The simple truth is that she “genuinely likes being Queen”.