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Inside politics

Putting prime ministers in their place

With Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Getty

The Queen’s 15 prime ministers were often taken aback by how prepared she was for their weekly meetings, says The Daily Telegraph. Harold Wilson said he felt like an “unprepared schoolboy” when he couldn’t answer one of her questions in their first chat. Harold Macmillan said she displayed an “uncanny knowledge of details and personalities”. Nor did the Queen shy away from putting the leaders in their place. In her first tête-à-tête with Tony Blair, she pointed out that she had been the sovereign for longer than he’d been alive. When James Callaghan asked her for advice, she replied: “That’s for you to decide. That is what you are paid for.”

But the Queen noticeably warmed to some of her leaders. When Winston Churchill resigned in 1955, according to Sky News, she wrote him a handwritten letter saying she would always be “profoundly grateful” for his “wise guidance”. Wilson became one of her favourites – the Labour PM later said she was one of the few people in whom he could confide knowing that they weren’t “sharpening a knife for his back”. She attended the funerals of only two of her prime ministers: Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Her relationship with Britain’s first female PM may have been “strained”, reportedly because she was “worried by the social implications of Thatcherism”, but it had its moments. After Mrs Thatcher saw the Queen doing her own washing up at Balmoral, she sent the monarch a gift: a pair of marigolds.