Gareth Russell’s new biography of the Queen Mother is stuffed full of outrageous anecdotes. Because her father, Lord Strathmore, couldn’t be bothered to register her birth for six weeks, a fabulously bonkers rumour began circulating that she was really the daughter of a French chef. One conspiracist pointed to her podgy appearance, claiming: “She did look like the daughter of a cook.”
The book’s title – Do Let’s Have Another Drink – comes, of course, from the Queen Mother’s legendary drinking habits. Russell recounts a boozy lunch she shared with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster – and, according to the Queen Mother, a very good pianist. When her equerry came to retrieve her late in the afternoon, he found the worse-for-wear pair belting out a rendition of Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman. “I think my drink was spiked,” she later claimed.
Her household staff was also full of gay men. When one crusading homophobe asked her to send a moral message by firing her gay servants, she replied that if she did, she’d have to go self-service. Once, when her regular 7pm gin and tonic failed to appear, she ventured out to the pantry, where she overheard two of her male footmen having a lovers’ tiff. She interrupted them with the immortal line: “Would one of you old queens mind getting this old queen a drink?”