Sir Winston Churchill
The Queen’s first prime minister (of 12) was sunk in gloom at the death of George VI and did not relish working with a girl he hardly knew. “She is but a child,” he said. But the old man was soon captivated by the new Queen’s youth, beauty and precocious authority – and impressed by how much she knew. “All the film people in the world,” he said, “if they had scoured the globe, could not have found anyone so suited for the part.”
To her, he was Britain’s wartime saviour and hero. “She enjoyed his reminiscences and jokes,” wrote Nigel Nicolson in The Queen and Us, “and he her youthful response. He was fun, the embodiment of everything that made Great Britain great; she was his old-age romance.” At his weekly audiences with her, they would sit together alone for up to an hour. When Churchill was asked what they talked about, he bluffed: “Oh, mostly racing.”
Deeply shy and aghast to find himself King, George VI was torn between wanting to shelter his eldest daughter from the realities of what lay ahead and preparing her for the succession. He tried to protect “us four”, the cosy family unit thrust into the public arena by an accident of history. She adored him and he was her example, his diligence and commitment to duty providing her with a lifelong template of monarchy. It was said that the war and Churchill “made a king of him” but Elizabeth knew at what cost.
He introduced her, aged 16, to the recreational passion of her life by taking her to watch his racehorses in training at the Beckhampton stables of Fred Darling. By the time she inherited the royal racing stables in 1952, she was leagues ahead of him in equine knowledge and enthusiasm. His legacy provided one of the deepest diversionary satisfactions of her reign: an arena where she could be herself and excel as a professional among equals.
Lord Charteris of Amisfield was a one-off; a shrewd, high-spirited and innovative courtier who served the Queen as her private secretary for three decades, injecting humour into her speeches and a lightness of touch into the daily round. “There was this really pretty woman,” he recalled of his first interview with her, “bright blue eyes, blue dress, brooch with huge sapphires. She was so young, beautiful, dutiful, the most impressive of women.”
He was with Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Kenya when the King died unexpectedly on February 6, 1952. Her calm and composure were astonishing to him. “I never imagined that anyone could grasp their destiny with such safe hands.” It fell to him to ask what name she wanted to use as Queen – “My own name, of course. Elizabeth” – and to brief her on details of the Accession on the long journey home.
Charteris, a snuff-taker, sculptor and late convert to wildfowling, was proud of relaxing the Queen’s image. “He made being Queen fun,” says Robert Lacey, the royal biographer. He wanted people to see her as she really was, not strait-jacketed by formality. Letting the light in on the mystery of royalty, he argued as the ground-breaking documentary Royal Family was televised in 1969, was both pragmatic and inevitable. The highly successful Silver Jubilee in 1977 was his parting triumph.
On his retirement, the Queen presented him with a silver tray engraved with the words: “Martin, thank you for a lifetime.” He was Provost of Eton, his old school, for the next 13 years, remaining close to the Queen until his death in 1999.
The 7th Earl of Carnarvon was the Queen’s racing manager, one of her oldest and most valued friends. She called him by his schoolboy nickname “Porchey” (after his courtesy title, Lord Porchester). He took her to balls. He was with the princesses when they joined the wild throng of V-E Day revellers outside Buckingham Palace. Lord Porchester (as he then was) revived the Highclere Stud at the family seat near Newbury, where the Queen was a frequent guest. They discussed everything from breeding theories to rhododendrons. “It was a very equal friendship ranging over many interests,” says his son, Geordie, the current earl. “They were from the same generation. They had been through the war. They shared a great love of the countryside and wildlife as well as horses. Whether they were walking at Sandringham, Highclere or in Scotland, it was always a great obsession.
“My father had a photographic memory for bloodlines. He and the Queen had a similar passion for every aspect and detail of breeding. They often had quite lively discussions about which stallion a mare should go to, or which race. It was a key part of their week.”
Carnarvon, who bred a string of high-class winners, was the Queen’s racing manager for 32 years until his sudden death in 2001. She broke with custom and attended his funeral.
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