Wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai, China
Some of the Queen's outfits on display at Hillsborough Castle in 2013
Statue at Newmarket, Suffolk
On the cover of Time, 1953

The image of Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms and Head of the Commonwealth from 1952 to 2022, was generally favourable throughout her years as a reigning monarch. Conservative in dress, she was well known for her solid-colour overcoats and matching hats, which allowed her to be seen easily in a crowd.[1] She attended many cultural events as part of her public role. Her main leisure interests included horse racing, photography, and dogs, especially her Pembroke Welsh corgis.[2] She ate jam sandwiches every day since childhood. Some of her other favorite foods were fish and chips, chocolate perfection pie, scones with jam and clotted cream, salmon from the River Dee and Morecambe Bay potted shrimp.[3] Her views on political issues and other matters were largely subject to conjecture. She never gave a press interview and was otherwise not known to discuss her personal opinions publicly.

Personality

Margaret Rhodes speaking about her cousin Queen Elizabeth II, on BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs, 2012

Much of what is known about Elizabeth's personality and views has been compiled from impressions and descriptions by those whom had met her. Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote about then-Princess Elizabeth in his diary, after speaking with her at a dinner during the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in 1944: "She was very natural, not in the least shy."[4]

Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff remarked in 2010, after a private audience with Elizabeth, how he was struck by her "wonderful sense of the absurd" and noted her "sense of humour [...] that sense of comedy of life has survived 60 years of gruelling public life."[5] After a weekend at Balmoral Castle hosted by Elizabeth, Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean recounted witnessing a relaxed, informal home life: Elizabeth and her family preparing a meal together—including a salad dressing she had devised—and doing the washing up afterwards.[6] Similarly, Michael Hood, aide-de-camp to Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, remembered the Queen and her husband driving their guests to picnics on the grounds of Sandringham House and helping serve food and drink.[7]

Lady Pamela Hicks, a cousin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, commented on Elizabeth's personality as "individualistic". Hicks's mother remembers back to when King George VI died. Elizabeth was in Kenya with her husband when she found out; "I'm so sorry, but we are going to have to go back to England," she recalled Elizabeth saying.[8]

Beliefs, activities, and interests

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh leaving Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa after a visit in 1957

Elizabeth had a deep sense of religious and civic duty, and took her Coronation Oath seriously.[9] Aside from her official religious role as Supreme Governor of the established Church of England, she worshipped with that church and also the national Church of Scotland.[10] She demonstrated support for inter-faith relations and met with leaders of other churches and religions, including five popes of the Roman Catholic Church: Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.[11] A personal note about her faith often featured in her annual Christmas Message broadcast to the Commonwealth. In 2000, she said:[12]

To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.

Elizabeth was patron of more than 600 organisations and charities.[13] The Charities Aid Foundation estimated that Elizabeth helped raise over £1.4 billion for her patronages during her reign.[14] Her main leisure interests included equestrianism and dogs, especially her Pembroke Welsh Corgis.[15] Her lifelong love of corgis began in 1933 with Dookie, the first corgi owned by her family.[16][17]

Despite not being a football fan and instead enjoying horse-racing, Elizabeth stated to the former England men's manager Sven-Göran Eriksson in the past that her favourite player was ex-Liverpool striker Michael Owen.[18]

Political views

The Queen with Alex Salmond at the 2007 opening of the Scottish Parliament. There have been media reports and comments from politicians that she was privately against the idea of Scottish independence.

Elizabeth did not explicitly express her own political opinions in a public forum, and it is against convention to ask or reveal the monarch's views.

Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King recorded a meeting with King George VI, on 23 October 1945, at which Princess Elizabeth was present. Mackenzie King wrote in his diary, "some mention was made of [Adolf] Hitler [...] the King said something about it being a pity that Hitler had not been shot. Princess Elizabeth said she would have been prepared to shoot him."[4]

While the Queen never spoke publicly on the matter of apartheid, in 1961, the year in which South Africa held a Whites-only referendum that narrowly rejected the South African monarchy and, along with it, Elizabeth as queen, she was photographed dancing with President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah at a banquet in Accra celebrating Ghana's establishment as a republic (also removing Elizabeth as head of state) the year before. This act was taken as the Queen's symbolic expression of her antiapartheid stance; the image offended the white South African government.[19] Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said the Queen had, through the 1980s, sided with the majority of Commonwealth prime ministers, and against her British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, on the matter of imposing sanctions on apartheid South Africa,[19] a point echoed by former Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal, who said, "so steadfast was the Queen to the antiapartheid cause [...] that, once again, she stood firm against the position of Thatcher."[20]

When The Times journalist Paul Routledge controversially asked Elizabeth for her opinions on the miners' strike of 1984–85, she replied that it was "all about one man", a reference to Arthur Scargill.[21]

Paul Martin Sr., who was in 1981 sent to the UK to discuss the patriation of the Canadian constitution, noted that, during that time, the Queen had taken a great interest in the constitutional debate and he, along with John Roberts and Mark MacGuigan, found the monarch "better informed on both the substance and politics of Canada's constitutional case than any of the British politicians or bureaucrats."[22] After the constitution was patriated to Canada in 1982, with amendments the cabinet of Quebec refused to agree to, the Queen, at a reception at Rideau Hall, privately conveyed to journalists her regret that the province was not part of the settlement.[23] Elizabeth later, on 22 and 23 October 1987, publicly expressed her personal support for the Meech Lake Accord, which attempted to bring Quebec governmental backing to the patriated constitution. She received criticism from opponents of the accord, which failed to attract the unanimous support from all federal and provincial legislators required for it to pass.[24]

Elizabeth was, in October 1995, tricked into a hoax call by Montreal radio host Pierre Brassard impersonating Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Elizabeth, who believed that she was speaking to her Prime Minister, said she supported Canadian unity and agreed to make a national, televised statement encouraging such in the days ahead of that year's referendum on Quebec's independence.[25][26]

After the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the Queen was pleased with the outcome.[27] She had arguably issued a public coded statement about the referendum by telling one woman outside Balmoral Kirk that she hoped people would think "very carefully" about the outcome. It emerged later that Cameron had specifically requested that she register her concern.[28]

Elizabeth favoured action to mitigate the effects of climate change. She told the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference: "None of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves, but for our children and our children's children, and those who will follow in their footsteps".[29]

Public image

Street Party for the Queen's Silver Jubillee in Lynwood Chase, Bracknell, Berkshire

At Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee in 1977, the crowds and celebrations were genuinely enthusiastic;[30] however there was a significant shift over the next twenty years with her popularity sinking to a low point in the 1990s. Under pressure from public opinion, she began to pay income tax for the first time, and Buckingham Palace was opened to the public.[31] Although support for republicanism in Britain seemed higher than at any time in living memory, republican ideology was still a minority viewpoint and Elizabeth herself had high approval ratings.[32] Criticism was focused on the institution of the monarchy itself, and the conduct of Elizabeth's wider family, rather than her own behaviour and actions.[33] Discontent with the monarchy reached its peak on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, although Elizabeth's personal popularity—as well as general support for the monarchy—rebounded after her live television broadcast to the world five days after Diana's death.[34] In 2002, Elizabeth was ranked 24th in the 100 Greatest Britons poll.[35]

Meeting children in Brisbane, Australia, October 1982

In November 1999, a referendum in Australia on the future of the Australian monarchy favoured its retention in preference to an indirectly elected head of state.[36] Many republicans credited Elizabeth's personal popularity with the survival of the monarchy in Australia. In 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard noted that there was a "deep affection" for Elizabeth in Australia and another referendum on the monarchy should wait until after her reign.[37] Gillard's successor, Malcolm Turnbull, who led the republican campaign in 1999, similarly believed that Australians would not vote to become a republic in her lifetime.[38] "She's been an extraordinary head of state", Turnbull said in 2021, "and I think frankly, in Australia, there are more Elizabethans than there are monarchists".[39] Similarly, referendums in both Tuvalu in 2008 and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009 saw voters reject proposals to become republics.[40]

An Ulster loyalist mural in Belfast depicting the Queen

Opinion polls suggested that Queen Elizabeth II had a strong approval rating even in the 1990s which improved in the early years of the 21st century;[41] coinciding with her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen had an approval rate in the United Kingdom of 90% in 2012.[42] According to a YouGov poll in January 2014, Elizabeth was the most admired person in the United Kingdom with 18.74% of respondents reporting that she was the person they most admired, the highest percentage of all candidates.[43] Internationally she was the 17th most-admired person in the world.[44]

Banners marking the Queen's platinum Jubillee in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

Elizabeth's public image had noticeably softened in the years prior to her death; as although she remained reserved in public, she had been seen laughing and smiling much more than in years past, and shed tears during emotional occasions such as at Remembrance Day services.[45] Henry Ward described his 2016 portrait of the Queen as portraying "a queen of warmth but also of reserve".[46] Whilst not as universal as it once was, various polling suggested the popularity of the monarchy remained high in Great Britain during the Platinum Jubilee in 2022,[47] with Elizabeth's personal popularity remaining particularly strong.[48] As of 2021, she remained the third most admired woman in the world according to the annual Gallup poll, her 52 appearances on the list meaning she had been in the top ten more than any other woman in the poll's history.[49]

Personality in diplomacy matters

United States President Gerald Ford and Queen Elizabeth II dance during the state dinner in honour of the Queen and Prince Philip at the White House, 17 July 1976

In matters of diplomacy, Elizabeth was known to be quite formal, and royal protocol is generally very strict. Though some of the traditional rules for dealing with the monarch were relaxed during her reign (bowing was no longer required, for example, although it is still frequently performed), other forms of close personal interaction, such as touching, are discouraged by officials. At least six people are known to have broken this rule, the first being a woman named Alice Frazier, who hugged the Queen in 1991 when Elizabeth visited her residence in a government housing project in Washington, D.C. (accompanied by First Lady Barbara Bush and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp).[50][51] The second was Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia, when he was photographed with his arm around Elizabeth in 1992. The third was Canadian cyclist Louis Garneau, who did the same thing ten years later when posing for a photograph with Elizabeth at Rideau Hall (her official residence in Canada).[52] In 2009, Elizabeth initiated an affectionate gesture with First Lady Michelle Obama at a palace reception she attended with President Obama. The Queen rested her hand briefly at the small of the First Lady's back, a gesture that Mrs Obama returned. It was remarked at the time as unprecedented and described afterwards by a palace spokeswoman as "a mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation between The Queen and Michelle Obama."[53]

Elizabeth's subtle uses of signals to her staff in certain social situations has been described by journalist Hugo Vickers and others.[54] It is said that by twisting her wedding ring she would signal that she was ready for the conversation or event to end forthwith.[55] Alternately, placing her handbag onto the table at dinner meant that she wanted the event to end within the next five minutes and by setting it on the floor she indicated that she was not enjoying the conversation and wanted a lady-in-waiting to assist immediately.[56]

Media perception

A portrait of Elizabeth painted in the Netherlands in the first year of her reign is transported to London

In the 1950s, as a young woman at the start of her reign, Elizabeth was depicted as a glamorous "fairytale Queen".[57] After the trauma of the Second World War, it was a time of hope, a period of progress and achievement heralding a "new Elizabethan age".[58] Lord Altrincham's accusation in 1957 that her speeches sounded like those of a "priggish schoolgirl" was an extremely rare criticism.[59] In the late 1960s, attempts to portray a more modern image of the monarchy were made in the television documentary Royal Family and by televising Prince Charles's investiture as Prince of Wales.[60] Her wardrobe developed a recognisable, signature style driven more by function than fashion.[61] She dressed with an eye toward what was appropriate, rather than what was in vogue.[62] In public, she took to wearing mostly solid-colour overcoats and decorative hats, allowing her to be seen easily in a crowd.[63] Her wardrobe was handled by a team that included five dressers, a dressmaker, and a milliner.[64]

In the 1980s, public criticism of the royal family increased, as the personal and working lives of Elizabeth's children came under media scrutiny.[65] In 1997, she and other members of the royal family were perceived in the tabloid press as cold and unfeeling when they did not participate in the public outpouring of grief at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.[35] Elizabeth ignored precedent, opting to bow to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace and also gave a live television broadcast paying tribute to Diana.[66] Her family came under scrutiny again in the last few years of her life due to her son Andrew's association with convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, his lawsuit with Virginia Giuffre amidst accusations of sexual impropriety, and her grandson Harry and his wife Meghan's stepping-down as senior members of the royal family and subsequent move to the United States.[67][68]

Elizabeth attended many cultural events as part of her public role. She gave an annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth every year, apart from 1969, while she was Queen. Elizabeth's first such message was aired on Christmas Day 1957.[69] In 2001, the Royal Christmas Message was webcast on the royal website for the first time and, in 2006, it was made available as a podcast. Her first appearance on live television was for an address to Canadians on 13 October 1957, Thanksgiving Day in Canada that year.[70] Elizabeth read her speech at Rideau Hall and it was aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[71][72]

Elizabeth never did a press interview. In 2018, she engaged in small talk with Alastair Bruce of Crionaich for the television documentary The Coronation.[73] In 2006, Elizabeth had been filmed having a conversation with the later-disgraced Australian artist and media personality Rolf Harris while he painted her portrait. It ventured little beyond talk of previous portraits of Elizabeth and royal art history in general, and Elizabeth's responses to Harris's overtures were notably crisp and monosyllabic. She had a more jovial on-camera exchange with the painter Andrew Festing while sitting for a portrait in the 1992 BBC documentary Elizabeth R, directed by Edward Mirzoeff on the 40th anniversary of her accession.

The BBC, along with RDF Media Group, became the target of the Queen's lawyers, Farrer & Co, after the broadcaster aired a documentary trailer for Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work (2007), which was edited in such a way as to make it appear as though Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo shoot with photographer Annie Leibovitz. The BBC had earlier apologised for the misrepresentation, which was fuelled by BBC1 controller Peter Fincham describing Elizabeth as "losing it a bit and walking out in a huff"; but, Elizabeth and Buckingham Palace were not satisfied with the results and pushed to sue for breach of contract.[74]

Elizabeth was the subject of "Her Majesty", featured on the Beatles' 1969 album Abbey Road; McCartney played the song at the Party at the Palace concert during Elizabeth's golden jubilee in 2002. She is also mentioned in the song "Mean Mr. Mustard" (also featured on Abbey Road), and in the 1967 Lennon and McCartney song "Penny Lane". In 1977, The Sex Pistols issued "God Save the Queen", which became a controversial hit single, inspiring the punk rock movement with its lyrics suggesting "She ain't no human being", and there was "no future" and comparing England to a "fascist regime."[75] The Smiths released the song and album The Queen Is Dead in 1986. The Pet Shop Boys have a track called "Dreaming of the Queen". Elizabeth was the subject of "Elizabeth My Dear", which appears on The Stone Roses' eponymous debut. She is referenced in the Travie McCoy song "Billionaire" where he sings that he wants to be "on the cover of Forbes magazine./ Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen."

Elizabeth played detective in the Her Majesty Investigates series of mystery novels by C.C. Benison, which includes Death at Buckingham Palace, Death at Windsor Castle and Death at Sandringham House. Elizabeth was the subject of The Queen and I, and was a character in Queen Camilla, both books written by Sue Townsend. She was also a character in the book The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.

In 2006, she was portrayed by Helen Mirren in the Golden Globe- and Academy Award-nominated Stephen Frears film The Queen, a fictional account of the immediate events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The film ended up as the most critically acclaimed film of 2006.[76] Mirren, who had been appointed into the Order of the British Empire in 2003, won the Oscar for her work in the film and, in her acceptance speech, she paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: "For 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle," she said.[77]

Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, has given the royal family working-class nicknames, as though they were characters in a soap opera.[78] Queen Elizabeth II's nickname is "Brenda".[78]

The Crown, a biographical story about the reign of Elizabeth by Netflix, was released globally on 4 November 2016.[79][80][81] It is based on an award-winning play, The Audience, and is a biopic drama television series, created and written by Peter Morgan and produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television for Netflix.[82] The show received critical accolade and has won many awards, including that of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 70th and 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards for Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, respectively.[83][84]

Critics

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee attracted some controversy after campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised Elizabeth for inviting "royal tyrants". At the time Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had accused both the kings of Bahrain and Eswatini as well as certain members of the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti royal families of various human rights abuses.[85]

An investigation by The Guardian in February 2021 alleged that Elizabeth II had used the power of Queen's Consent to secretly influence the content of parliamentary bills that could affect the Crown's financial interests, particularly bills related to wealth and taxation.[86] For example, the report claims that Elizabeth used the procedure to request an exemption for her private estates from a 1968 road safety bill, and to request changes to a 1975 bill regulating the leasing of private land.[87] The Guardian also reported that the Queen's royal household had barred "coloured immigrants and foreigners" from working in clerical roles, and that the household had used the consent mechanism to lobby Parliament for an exemption from a 1960s law banning employment discrimination. This exemption has prevented women and people of colour who work for the royal household from suing for discrimination.[88] However, Buckingham Palace responded to The Guardian, stating that consent was always granted when requested and that legislation was never blocked.[89]

Groups opposed to the monarchy sometimes refer to Elizabeth as "Betty Windsor"[90][91] or "Liz Windsor".[85]

Fictional portrayals

Film

Elizabeth has been portrayed on screen by:

Dame Helen Mirren, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role

Music video

Television

On television, Elizabeth has been played by:

The Queen depicted with Mr. Bean in Mr. Bean: The Animated Series.

She has been portrayed on Saturday Night Live since 1977 by, among others, Fred Armisen, Mike Myers, and Kate McKinnon.[99] Jan Ravens was the voice for a latex puppet caricature of her in Spitting Image (1984–1996), and gave radio and television comedy impressions of her in Dead Ringers. Luba Goy gave a recurring impression of Queen Elizabeth II on Royal Canadian Air Farce and Cathy Jones in This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Tracey Ullman's depiction of Elizabeth was among many roles she played on the television series Tracey Takes On.... The Simpsons portrayed Elizabeth during the episode "The Regina Monologues" (2003). She was also shown in the SpongeBob SquarePants TV movie Truth or Square. Elizabeth is also a supporting character in Peppa Pig and Mr. Bean: The Animated Series.

Stage

Radio

In December 2012, as part of a radio show, a group of Australian radio jockeys rang up the King Edward VII's Hospital, where Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was staying. Mel Greig impersonated Elizabeth and Mike Christian impersonated Prince Charles. One of the nurses who spoke to them, Jacintha Saldanha, later committed suicide and there was much criticism directed at the radio show. There were no charges laid against the radio jockeys.

Novels and children's books

Elizabeth has played a role in the plots of fictional works, including mystery novels, satires, historical fiction, and children's books.

Novels

Novellas

Children's books

Documentaries and television series

Documentaries

TV film and series documentaries

Image on currency

Four coin portraits of Elizabeth II
Canada was the first country to feature Elizabeth on their banknotes
The Queen on an Australian one-dollar banknote

The image of Queen Elizabeth has appeared on the banknotes of at least 35 countries, making her the Guinness World Record holder for the "Most Currencies Featuring the Same Individual".[105] Her depictions on these currencies serve as a photo journal of sorts, as they span the range of Elizabeth's life, from youth to the end of her life.[106][107]

Patronage of charities

Further information: List of organisations in the United Kingdom with a royal charter, List of Canadian organizations with royal patronage, and List of New Zealand organisations with royal patronage

The Queen was patron of more than 620 charities and organisations[2] including:

See also

References

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