In the hours following Queen Elizabeth’s death, many fans were eager to share their favorite stories about the legendary monarch. One of the most shared memories came courtesy of former royal protection officer Richard Griffin, who shared an anecdote about a picnic he attended with the queen at her countryside home in Balmoral.
“Normally on these picnic sites, you meet nobody,” Griffin explained. “But there was two hikers coming towards us, and the queen would always stop and say hello. And it was two Americans on a walking holiday. And it was clear from the moment we first stopped, they hadn’t recognized the queen, which is fine,” he continued.
A monarch with a bigger ego may have been indignant toward the tourists. After all, she has one of the most recognizable faces in the world; how could they not know her? But instead, Her Majesty chose to have a little fun.
“The American gentleman was telling the queen where he came from, where they were going to next, and where they’d been to in Britain,” Griffin went on. “And I could see it coming, and, sure enough, he said to Her Majesty, ‘Where do you live?’”
“And she said, ‘Well, I live in London,’ but I’ve got a holiday home just the other side of the hills.’”
After Queen Elizabeth explained how she’d been coming to that place for more than 80 years since she was a child, Griffin could see “the clock’s ticking” as the tourist started to realize something.
“‘Well if you’ve been coming up here for 80 years, you must have met the queen!’” the American said, per Griffin.
To that, the queen replied while gesturing to the protection officer, “‘Well I haven’t, but Dick here meets her regularly.’” Keeping up with the gag, Griffin told the tourist that the queen could be “very cantankerous at times” when asked what she was like. “But she’s got a lovely sense of humor,” Griffin added.
Griffin said he did take a photo of the tourists with the queen, never letting on who she was, and she later remarked, “‘I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he shows those pictures to friends in America.’”
That wasn’t the only time the queen made light of not being recognized. During a shopping excursion in Norfolk, a shop assistant apparently said to her, “You look just like the Queen.”
Her Majesty deadpanned, “How reassuring.”
Queen Elizabeth is often called the “unknowable queen” because she perfected the art of the quintessential “stiff upper lip” that is synonymous with British high society. She lived by the motto “never complain, never explain” and fulfilled her duties as queen with little complaint or fuss. However, even though the queen was steadfast and serious, she still retained a fun sense of humor.
She frequently participated in humor sketches, including the beloved video of her having tea with Paddington Bear, to open her Platinum Jubilee celebration. “She’s absolutely glowing in that moment,” writer Frank Cottrell Boyce said of her appearance alongside the famous fictional bear.
“And you’ve got to remember that that’s real acting that’s going on there. Paddington isn’t really in the room. She’s acting with an eye-line and with someone pretending to be Paddington. That’s proper acting going on. But I also think it’s true happiness.”
Angela Kelly, the queen’s dresser, also once said that, “The queen has a wicked sense of humor and is a great mimic. She can do all accents — including mine.” Kelly was the one who told Boyce that Her Majesty would be willing to participate in a 2012 Olympics sketch where the queen appeared to jump out of a helicopter alongside James Bond actor Daniel Craig.
“I asked then if she would like a speaking part,” Kelly wrote of the skit. “Without hesitation, Her Majesty replied: ‘Of course I must say something. After all, he is coming to rescue me.’
Even Craig was impressed by Her Majesty’s improv skills. “She literally kind of said, ‘Would you like me to pretend to be writing?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes, that’s great, that’s great.’ So she sort of acted a bit. That was all her own stuff. It was amazing,” he gushed afterward.
These big sketches garner the most attention, but it was in her subtle one-liners and deadpan sarcasm that Queen Elizabeth really shined.
“Thank you, prime minister of Canada, for making me feel so old,” the queen retorted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he mentioned that her photo first appeared on Canadian postage in 1935, when she was nine.
Karen Dolby agreed that the monarch’s humorous nature was
genuine and expansive. In her book “The Wicked Wit of Queen Elizabeth II,” she said, “as anyone who has ever met with her will tell you, in person she is very warm and human with a well-developed sense of humour.”
Dolby described how at one Buckingham Palace summer garden party, the queen heard someone’s cell phone ringing as they stood next to her. “You should answer it,” Queen Elizabeth quipped. “It might be someone important.”
Royal fans may also remember a little back-and-forth she had with President George W. Bush. The queen was not outwardly attached to either political party and, instead, tried to remain neutral, which has become a true rarity. She met with 13 out of 14 United States presidents who were in office during her reign, missing a meeting only with Lyndon B. Johnson.
After President Bush accidentally added 200 years to Queen Elizabeth’s age during a welcome ceremony at the White House, he winked and said, “She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child.”
Two days later the queen had concocted her perfect reply. At a dinner, she joked, “I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, ‘When I was here in 1776…’”
“Your Majesty, I can’t top that one,” Bush admitted.
Historian and author Sir Anthony Seldon explained of the queen’s sense of humor, “She likes the absurd – and when things go wrong, she’s more likely to be amused than annoyed.”
For example, there was a moment when Queen Elizabeth started laughing after a swarm of bees appeared during a military review at Windsor Castle in 2003.
“I recognized that it was a human moment,” photographer Chris Young said of snapping his famous photo of the event. ”She was giggling like a little girl.”
Queen Elizabeth’s sense of humor is certainly fun for fans to witness, but her ability to laugh – and to not become completely self-focused – is also an important lesson for modern times.
Sir Anthony said of Her Majesty, “A defining characteristic is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. It’s significantly contributed to the success of her reign.”
He goes on to say she lacks the “self-obsession” that has become a “disease of the age,” per a recent BBC article.
“There is a lack of pomposity, a certain irreverence,” he continued. “She’s able to laugh off misfortune and keep going.”
The queen had her share of tragedies over 96 years of life. She lost her father unexpectedly when she was a young woman, she endured multiple royal family scandals that rocked the world, and she ruled the realm through the good and the bad times. One of the prominent reasons Queen Elizabeth became such a beloved figure, though, is that she never let the hard times rob her of that mischievous streak. People saw her as dedicated yet joyful, serious yet silly, and, overall, as a person who grasped the beauty of a life well lived.
“Let us not take ourselves too seriously,” the queen said during her 1991 Christmas address. “None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”