Excerpt: Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II

"I am not a politician," is Queen Elizabeth II's standard response to press advisers who have tried to get her to jump through hoops. In this excerpt of Monarch : The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II , author Robert Lacey looks at how the queen shifted out of her usually reserved style after Princess Diana died.

Excerpt from Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II by Robert Lacey.


"As your Queen, and as a grandmother"

It was on a cool September Thursday at Balmoral that Queen Elizabeth II realised she would have to change course. She had read the newspapers over breakfast that morning, digesting their angry sermons with the long-practised pensiveness which caused her eyes to narrow. Her jaw would firm slightly as her thought processes started, shifting her chin forward a fraction — a signal to her staff to think one more hard thought before they opened their mouths. Then, soon after nine o'clock, the phone calls from London started.

Diana had died the previous Sunday — the last day of August 1997 — and it had been pressure and decisions ever since. Helping the two boys had been their grandmother's first priority, applying her own therapy in times of trouble — lots of exercise and fresh air.

"We must get them out and away from the television," said the queen as she clicked across the mournful images of the princess being run non-stop on every channel. "Let's get them both up in the hills."

The fact that they were all together as a family, away from everything, in the rugged beauty and peace of Scotland, had seemed such a blessing at first. Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's bluff and burly rugby-playing son, had gone out with William and Harry on the moors each day, jollying them along with stalking and the odd fishing expedition — plus lots of mucking around on the brothers' noisy all-terrain motorbikes. The two young princes both loved the outdoors. In that respect they were very much Charles's sons.

The weather had been balmy, with just a hint of autumn crispness, and the whole family had driven out most evenings in the Land Rovers to eat. Ever practical, ever-tinkering, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the proud deviser of a bulky, wheeled contraption that is the centre of these cherished rituals — a picnic trailer. With the grilling rack and pots and pans stowed neat and ship-shape enough for the naval officer he had been, and padded drawers for carefully segregated types of fortifying alcohol, the wagon is towed to the shooting lodge selected for the family barbecue. No staff are present and the royal paterfamilias becomes chef.

In that first week of September, the duke's barbecue wagon had come into its own as never before. Cooking and carving and cleaning up afterwards, the shared chores and rituals of the self-help meal had kept the whole family busy and had helped create the feeling there was something everyone could do. It was practical therapy.

At fifteen, William had seemed to take it bravely, on the outside at least. But he was insisting that he would not walk behind the coffin at the funeral. Not quite thirteen, Harry had been more obviously upset. Was everyone quite sure Mummy was dead? he was heard to enquire. Could it not be checked to make sure there had not been a mistake?

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