I have thought long and hard about whether I should reveal what the Queen said to me and I said to her this evening. I remember A.N. Wilson getting into frightful trouble for an article in the spectator in which he repeated a conversation he had had over luncheon with the Queen Mother. There is no doubt he was wrong to do it. Would I, if I repeated my own conversation with the Queen, be equally guilty of caddish behaviour?
It seems to me that there is one important difference between my discussion with the Queen and Wilson’s with the Queen Mother. Although it was clear to me that my conversation was one which the Queen would have much preferred to be conducted in private, the fact was that all sorts of people probably overheard it. None of them, I am sure, would have deliberately sold the story to a tabloid newspaper, but how could one be sure they wouldn’t repeat it in a pub? Was it not probable that some vile journalist would be listening to the idle bar chatter and spot his chance of a scoop? And, if he did, what would be the chance of the conversation being accurately reported? Eventually I concluded that I owed it to posterity to set the record straight.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I should explain the circumstances.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh gave a small party this evening in Buckingham Palace for a thousand or so of the employees of the Royal Household and their partners to mark Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. I was there as a husband. About an hour into the party I realised it was time for me to go to the loo (those of you who know my complicated medical history will know that going to the loo has to be done by the clock). I set off across the rather crowded throne room towards the long corridor which led to the Gentlemen’s lavatory. As I got to that corridor and started to walk down it I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a Palace servant who was clearly intent on halting my progress. I raised, I imagine, a questioning eyebrow.
“Could you please stand back, sir?” he said. I explained that I just wanted to go to the loo. He pointed up the corridor and said that he would appreciate it if I waited for the Queen to pass. I saw what he meant. The Queen was making her way down the corridor into the throne room. Just as with the Red Sea and Moses, the people had parted to provide a clear path for her. I toyed with the idea of showing my NHS card which requests and requires all those whom it may concern to permit me to go to the loo. But a quick look at my watch confirmed I still had at least five minutes. I stood back and waited for my sovereign to pass.
She stopped every now and again to exchange unimportant pleasantries with her guests. And then she got to me. I bowed. She seemed to hesitate. Was there a knowing look in her eye? Had she realised already that she had come across a kindred spirit? I don’t know, but she looked up at me, smiled and spoke.
This is the point of no return. I am about to reveal what the Queen said. But, before I do, I must make it absolutely clear that I am not going to embellish. What I now report is wholly accurate. My sole aim is to ensure that future historians know the truth and nothing but the truth. You may well be startled, I am sure you will be, by her words, but you can be sure, I promise, that they were precisely the ones she used.
“Good evening,” she said.
I will let that sink in before I record my reply.
And how does one reply to such an acute observation from one’s monarch? I am not a bragger, at least not usually. But I can’t help being proud of the speed with which I came up with what I still think hit the nail on the head.
I wonder what others would have said. We will never know, other than that my words would probably have been the last to occur to them. I will keep you in suspense no longer.
I said, wait for it:
“Good evening, Your Majesty”.
She smiled again. I could tell she wanted to take the conversation further. But she knows her duty. She couldn’t let the pleasure of more discourse with me stop her progress through the palace. She walked on.
And I went to the loo.
There. A piece of history. There will be films and television programmes recreating tonight’s meeting of minds. But you heard it first here.