96 Amusing Things You May Not Know About the Queen to Mark Her 96th Birthday
Queen Elizabeth II attends her Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, July 11, 2006. Photo: Pool/Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth turns 96 today, and she has chosen her Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to spend this auspicious birthday of her Platinum Jubilee year, specifically at Wood Farm, the cottage on the estate where Prince Philip spent his well-earned retirement reading books and driving his carriage ponies. There have been so many momentous events throughout the Queen’s 96 years, but as she chose to remind us all with a sentimental journey to her beloved late husband’s retreat, real life is in the details. To that end, we’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known facts about the Queen’s extraordinary lifestyle. Because even if a life is lived so much in public, one has to amuse oneself in private.
Ephemera: Speed Round
1. The Queen pays her poet laureate in sherry (a barrel-full, or about 720 bottles, along with a £5000+ annual stipend).
2. Her drink of choice is Gin and Dubonnet, but her doctor has recently asked her to cut back. P.S. The gin is always Gordon’s London Dry, which also has her royal warrant. (See #68)
3. The Queen saves rubber bands, and supposedly has a giant ball made of those that she’s reserved over the years.
4. As she walks through the palaces, she’s often is found turning lights off to conserve energy.
5. She’s a tree hugger, too. Elizabeth has personally planted more than 1,500 trees all over the world. Plant a Tree for the Jubilee is her latest initiative, planting two trees to launch it, at Windsor and at Balmoral. (Prince Charles did the heavy lifting.)
6. The Queen carries a set of keys with her at all times — the Dispatch Keys, which open boxes from her ministers — on a St. Christopher keyring given to her by her father.
7. She keeps a pad in NYC, a condo near the UN that cost her US$7.9 million circa 2015.
8. She is rumoured to be the largest landowner in the world. She counts at least 30 castles among her properties, including Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s favoured hangout, and actively uses at least six of them, including Holyrood House in Edinburgh and Kensington Palace in London.
9. Our money “ages” with the Queen. Her image, which appears on the Canadian $20 bill, along with the loonie, toonie and all our coins, changes as she changes over her reign, the portrait purposefully taken to keep her image up to date. Move over Benjamins, we’ve got Elizabeths.
10. She is said to be good at mimicking a Cockney accent, and can imitate the sound of a Concord jet landing.
11. The Queen owns all the swans in the U.K. And each year along the Thames, all the mute swans — named so for their more quiet demeanour — are counted for Her Majesty in something known as the swan upping.
12. KitKat, with its origins in York, England, is the Queen’s favourite chocolate bar.
13. At Buckingham Palace, the Queen wakes to live bagpipes, which continue playing through breakfast.
14. What is in the Queen’s pot at teatime? Earl Grey.
15. The Queen speaks fluent French.
16. She has agreed to be godmother to 30 children.
17. What did Elizabeth want to be when she grew up? A farmer’s wife.
18. More than 100 actors have portrayed the Queen on stage and screen.
19. In normal (non-COVID) years, the Queen hosts some 50,000 people at various events at Buckingham Palace.
20. The Queen is a fan of Scottish country dancing, and has been known to host an annual dance at Balmoral, the Gillies’ Ball, for locals, neighbours and estate staff.
21. Almost a third of Britons say they have seen the Queen in person.
22. Aside from Her Majesty, the Queen is also known as the Duke of Lancaster — in the county of Lancashire, where an unprecedented one million well-wishers turned out to see her for her Silver Jubilee in 1977. In this Duchy, monarchs always maintain the male title. Way to stay fluid, Liz.
23. There is a message from the Queen on the moon.
24. You can actually write the Queen at Her Majesty The Queen, Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA. She is known to read her mail, and might actually write back (via a lady-in-waiting). Some 3.5 million people have written her during her reign.
25. The house the Queen was born in — 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair — became a fancy Cantonese restaurant called Hakkkasan.
26. The Queen has no passport (British passports are issued in her name) and has made more than 250 overseas trips during her reign without one.
27. The Queen has stepped down her day-to-day duties in recent years, but as recently as 2015, she undertook 341 engagements a year.
28. She continues to be the patron of more than 600 charities.
29. With a net worth estimated at US$500 million, the Queen has her own, private ATM at Buckingham Palace.
30. The Queen still breeds racehorses. A love of the animals dates back to her first pony, Peggy, a gift from George V, her grandfather. And she breeds winners. In one week at Ascot in the late ’50s, four of her horses took first place.
31. The Queen’s favourite horse racing manager, Lord Porchester (“Porchie”), is the father of the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed. There are photos of her on the piano.
32. The Queen is an avid pigeon racer.
33. The Queen has bred more than 30 dogs in the span of her reign. Her corgi breeding lineage dates back to her very first corgi, Susan, who was a gift for the then princess’s 18th birthday.
34. The Queen also created the dorgi breed (a dachshund-corgi mix), when one of her corgis mated with a dachshund belonging to her sister, Princess Margaret.
35. The most corgis she has had at one time is nine. Currently, she has two corgi puppies gifted to her by Prince Andrew on her 95th birthday, and a dorgi named Candy.
36. She’s just added a new breed to the mix: a cocker spaniel — Kate and Wills are fans — called Lissy.
37. The Queen’s dogs eat a hand-minced mixture of chicken, beef, rabbit, liver and cabbage. They have their own chef, naturally.
38. We most associate the Royal Family with the Land Rover brand, seen bouncing along the heath in Scotland at Balmoral, or when the Queen takes a spin around Windsor Great Park to visit the stables. In the city, it is often the same brand’s Range Rovers we see royals driving (or being driven in), as many of the press photos are taken of the royal gang as they arrive at and exit their various palaces.
39. She often uses a Range Rover Landaulet with an open top for processions so she can wave at crowds.
40. The Queen has a personal Jaguar, which she was photographed driving as recently as this past November. Previous versions of this car have featured a special resting place for the royal handbag.
41. The Queen’s state cars, painted in “royal livery claret” — how British is that? — have no license plates. The fleet includes three Rolls Royce’s, two Bentley’s and two Daimlers, and some are said to be equipped with a phone so she may call up to the driver.
42. There are more than 100 carriages in the Queen’s collection.
43. The oldest carriage is the Gold State Coach, used for coronations, which dates back to 1760 and the reign of King George III.
44. The Gold State Coach weighs four tonnes and takes eight horses to pull it. It really is “made of gold” and features golden carvings of dolphins, mermaids and various cherubs.
45. At Trooping the Colour, the Queen rode a horse — her favourite, Burmese, was Canadian — in the procession up until 1987. Since then, she rides in a coach for the event.
46. The choice of royal wedding carriage is as loaded as the choice of tiara. As in, the Queen makes the carriage selection. She put William and Kate in the 1902 State Landau that Charles and Diana also embarked upon after their own wedding. Harry and Meghan took an Ascot Landau carriage, drawn by six grey Windsor horses, chosen for their post-nuptial spin.
Speaking of Tiaras …
47. Even the Queen breaks from tradition. For the opening of Parliament in 2019, she wore the George IV State Diadem — the same one she wore on the way to her coronation — instead of the usual Imperial State Crown, which is the crown “lite” that serves in place of the much heavier (almost 5 pounds!) St. Edward’s Crown, which was placed on her head at the moment she was anointed Queen.
48. Elizabeth wore the Fringe Tiara on her wedding day: something borrowed from the Queen Mother. It was made by jeweller Garrard & Co.; originally commissioned and worn by Queen Mary, grandmother to Queen Elizabeth. It snapped in two a few hours before the ceremony. Garrard glued it back together again just in time.
49. The Queen wears the all-diamond Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara, one of her favourites, for her portraits for British currency. (See #9)
The Royal Wardrobe
50. The Queen’s umbrella of favour is by Fulton. They are always clear (so people can see her), with a coloured rim made specially to match her outfit. They cost about $35 each.
51. The Queen is super into sustainability, and re-wears her outfits regularly (and over decades). However, she wears her hats no more than 10 times each.
52. Her hat is always fastened with three pins.
53. There are also rules about how tall her hats can be, so she is never caught smacking her head on the roof of a car as she alights.
54. Since 1947, Cornelia James has been the provider of the Queen’s gloves. She often changes these multiple times per day. For evening, the company developed a special light nylon version.
55. Although she has not changed her “work” shoe style in 50 years, she wore custom Roger Vivier for her coronation. Her brand of choice for work days is the London footwear company Anello & Davide, and she has a shoemaking team dedicated to her.
56. The Queen’s heel is always exactly 2 1/4 inches high — always a stable chunkier shape, never a wedge.
57. She keeps about 10 pairs in rotation over the year, and has staffers (including her longtime trusted dresser, Angela Kelly), break in the shoes for her.
58. The Queen prefers Hermès scarves. Don’t we all.
59. The royal manicure is a neutral nail polish, said to be Essie’s Ballet Slipper!
60. No purse is more famous than the Queen’s, made by the British label Launer, of which she has 200. But what is inside the purse? This is one of the great mysteries of our time, and various biographers have come up with various answers.
61. The most interesting item? The Queen is said to carry a penknife, a throwback to her Girl Scout days. and yes, there are lozenges in her bag, and she has been observed to pull out normal purse stuff, like reading glasses from within its structured depths. She is also said to carry lipstick and a metal makeup case, a gift from her husband.
62. It is used as more than a fashion statement: the Queen has various handbag moves, such as shifting between crooks of different arms, that she uses to signal to her handlers.
63. If she places the bag on the floor when she is talking to you, apparently that is a 911 bat signal to get her away from you.
64. But the best thing in her bag? Treats for the corgis.
The Royal Warrants
If the Queen likes something, she gives the British company a Royal Warrant, which is a heady stamp of approval and a big boost for business. The Queen, formerly Prince Philip and Prince Charles are all able to give out the warrants that read, “By Appointment to” the various HRHs.
65. Royal Warrants go back to 1155, in King Henry II’s time. The arrangements are strictly commercial (as in, the Royal Family accepts no freebies).
66. Most of the most famous warrants are for luxury items, from Burberry to John Lobb shoes, wine merchants, tailors and jewellers. But a number of warrants are for much more unusual services, from the cleaners of Her Majesty’s kitchen counters to her internet service providers.
67. The Queen has a favoured wallpaper brand (Cole & Son), as well as a favourite vending machine and pest control companies, who also hold warrants.
68. The Queen also gives out the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Our current fave Award recipient? British sex toys company Lovehoney — available in Canada! — which does a Clone-a-Willy kit (moulded to match a particular member of your choice), fetish and bondage gear, and quiet masturbation toys.
The Queen is Head of the British Armed Forces. She retains the right to issue orders personally, though this has always been delegated to her officers in the field. She is also Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. With these titles, the Queen is entitled to choose any military uniform she wants, and always donned full ceremonial dress for Trooping of the Colour, until 1986.
69. During the Blitz in the Second World War, at age 14, she moved to Windsor. Since, it’s been her safe haven, and during the pandemic, her main residence.
70. When she turned 19, Elizabeth enlisted and served in the military — the first female royal to join the armed services, as a mechanic and where she learned how to drive, regularly commandeering a lorry. No wonder she loves her Range Rovers.
Gifts Given to the Queen Over the Years
What do you get a queen? Well, many have tried, you be the judge of who succeeded.
71. For their wedding, Elizabeth and Philip were sent some 2,500 gifts from the world over. These were put on display in the British capital for six months, drawing 200,000 visitors to admire the bounty.
72. As it was wartime, the then Princess Elizabeth was sent 131 pairs of nylons, 13 pairs of silk stockings, 38 handbags and 24 pairs of gloves, in case she was short.
73. She has been gifted many exotic pets over the years, including sloths, giant turtles, an elephant from Cameroon and a jaguar; these all went to live at the London Zoo.
74. Australia gave the Queen 500 tins of pineapple for her wedding.
75. The U.S. government had custom cowboy boots made for Her Majesty in 1991.
76. Canada sent her a 60-foot-high totem pole. Hope shipping was included.
77. Not to be outdone, the government of France sent over a wine cooler — in the shape of a grasshopper, for reasons unknown. Perhaps an inside joke?
78. Fiji thought sperm whale teeth would make a great new necklace for the British monarch.
79. The president of Slovenia got Her Majesty a 24-carat horse comb.
80. The Queen likes to give houses as wedding presents to her nearest and dearest: Will and Kate got Anmer Hall when they walked down the hall; Sophie and Edward got Bagshot Park; Andrew and Sarah got Sunninghill Park (later sold to a dictator for a scandalous above-market rate); and Harry and Meghan got Frogmore Cottage.
81. As a child, the Queen’s presents from her parents (and Father Christmas) were much more modest: comic books, whistles, small tin frying pans, are among the items listed in a book written by her nanny, Marion Crawford (who was later banished for spilling the royal beans).
82. It is said that the Queen’s favourite-ever gift was a bracelet Prince Phillip designed himself for her, and gave to her on the happy occasion of their wedding.
World of (Very Pricy) Art
83. The Queen has a killer art collection: in addition to tapestries, ceramics, furniture, books and manuscripts collected by her ancestors, there are more than 7,000 paintings, from Old Masters to modern works by Lucien Freud and Andy Warhol. The entry fees for Buckingham Palace are used to maintain the collection, spread among her 13 residences.
84. The Queen, apparently, does not sit still when posing for portrait painters or photographers. There have been five portraits done by the Royal Mint across her reign, which were used for currency.
85. More than 70 stamps have been issued featuring the Queen’s likeness since her coronation.
86. While she seldom lets her opinion be known, when presented with a portrait of herself and King George VI, painted from a photograph dated 1935, she asked, “Is that meant to be my father?” Replying to the question as to whether she recognized him, she simply said, “No.”
87. The Royal Collection holds 600 Leonardo da Vinci drawings and 20 sketches by Michelangelo.
88. In 2006, a Caravaggio — The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew — was found, after 400 years missing, in a royal storeroom. Imagine what else they might discover!
89. The largest clear-cut diamond in the world, the Culinan I weighing in at 530 carats, belongs to the Queen.
90. The whole lot of the Queen’s art collection is estimated to be worth some £10 billion (about $16.3 billion in our tally).
Other Games and Such …
91. Political shows are the Queen’s favourite TV choices, but she is also known to enjoy Antiques Roadshow every now and again.
92. Back in the day, the Queen loved Benny Hill, and has made it know Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster tickled the royal funny bone.
93. The Queen is a football fan, favouring Arsenal.
94. She also supported Phillip’s great love of cricket. There are also rumours she would occasionally catch wrestling matches on Wide World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon.
95. Up until her 90th birthday, the Queen was patron of the RFU, England’s national rugby league, a position she held for 60 years.
96. At the Queen’s behest, the Royal Family is known to often play charades, most often over Christmas at Sandringham. Perhaps a birthday round will be in order at Wood Farm this year.