HM The Queen is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the longest-serving head of state in the world, serving as Queen of Britain since 1952. A new book by Lucinda Hawksley published by Historic Royal Palaces, offers an intimate and insightful glimpse into the life of HM The Queen and the rapidly-changing world through which she has lived. Presented as 500 facts the work charts the highs (and occasional lows) of Her Majesty’s record-breaking reign. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites as a sneak preview:
1. Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, known in her family as ‘Lilibet’, was named after her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. She was born on 21 April 1926, by caesarean section.
2. When the Princess was 9 months old, her parents embarked on a six-month tour, leaving her in the care of her nurse ‘Allah’ and her grandparents, the King and Queen. At every stop, the Duke and Duchess were given baby presents – one estimate suggested the presents alone weighed 3 tonnes.
3. The Duchess of York was the last royal mother required to give birth in the presence of the Home Secretary, who was there (in an adjoining room!) to ensure that the royal baby was not swapped for a smuggled-in imposter.
4. Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in 1947 – as the bride was one of the most famous Girl Guides in the world, it was fitting that some of the ingredients used to make her official wedding cake were donated by Australian Guides. Instead of being eaten at the wedding reception, slices of the 12 wedding cakes were sent to charities, as well as to schoolchildren and patients and staff at hospitals throughout the country.
5. Prince William, the eldest child of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, was born in 1982. When William was very little, he was unable to say the word ‘Granny’, so instead he called The Queen ‘Gary’. This caused great confusion for guests at Buckingham Palace when the little prince fell over and sobbed for ‘Gary’ – the guests assumed he was calling for a member of the household staff.
6. One of the most sacred parts of the coronation is the anointing of the new monarch by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The precious oil – made from extracts of roses, oranges, musk, cinnamon and ambergris – usually lasts for decades. However, a new batch had to be created for The Queen, as the previous vial had been destroyed during a wartime bombing raid.
7. The Queen wore her stunning coronation dress, designed by Norman Hartnell on several further occasions during her 1954 tour of the Commonwealth. She wore the dress, embellished with national symbols, at state openings of Parliament in Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon).
8. In 2012, research from the Charities Aid Foundation showed that throughout her reign she has helped the charities she supports to raise more than £1.4bn.
9. Probably the most famous dish created for Elizabeth II is the one created for her coronation banquet in 1953. Looking for a special dish, florist and author Constance Spry came up with a recipe for cold chicken in a curried cream sauce, served with a salad of herbed rice and green peas. Coronation Chicken has been enjoyed ever since.
10. When Hollywood costume designer Michael Kaplan was working on Carrie Fisher’s clothes for her role as General Leiain Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he modelled her look on that of The Queen. He was particularly inspired by PietroAnnigoni’s 1969 portrait, Her Majesty in Robes of the British Empire. Kaplan said of Leia’s character: ‘I wanted her to look as beautiful and regal as possible.’
11. The Queen was the first female member of the Royal Family to serve in the armed forces: in 1942, as Princess Elizabeth, she was made Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. After her 18th birthday, in 1945, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, known as the ATS, as a second subaltern. She learnt to strip and repair engines, and how to drive a car, a truck and an ambulance.
12. The Queen is the first British monarch to circle the globe by aeroplane. She is also the first monarch to fly on a supersonic aircraft – she flew on Concorde in 1977.
13. In 2012,The Queen became the first monarch to be filmed in 3D, when Sky News captured her Christmas speech in three dimensions.
14. The Royal Tour of 1953-54 saw The Queen become the first reigning British monarch to visit Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. It was claimed the royal luggage weighed around 12 tons and that it included more than 200 pairs of white gloves!
15. The Queen is the owner of every ‘unclaimed’ mute swan in open waters in England and Wales.
16. Such is the power of The Queen’s image that many countries issue stamps with her image, despite having no connection to Britain at all. They reflect the fact that there’s money to be made issuing purely collectible issues which may never pass through the mail. Among the more strange stamp-producing countries is North Korea, which issued an 80 won sheetlet in 1984.