Gyles Brandreth has recalled the moment Queen Elizabeth II made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek remark to Mervyn King, then governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of the global financial crisis.
The author, broadcaster and former MP for the City of Cheshire was discussing his reissued biography, Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, at Henley Literary Festival on Saturday (30 September).
Sporting one of his signature jumpers – a deep purple knit with a corgi on the front – Brandreth told the audience one of his favourite memories of the late monarch, having first met her in 1968.
While visiting the Bank of England with Prince Philip in 2008, while the world was in the grip of the financial crisis, the Queen was apparently saying goodbye to the governor when she paused, and asked him to remind her how many people worked there.
After being told that 2,317 were employed at the Bank of England’s headquarters, she then remarked: “And yet… none of you saw it coming!”
“She was a very shrewd cookie,” Brandreth said, following laughter from the audience. “She was much more amusing than I think we were led to believe, particularly during the earlier years of her reign.”
He continued: “We got a flavour of the Queen, I think, when she let her hair down for that wonderful sketch at the London Olympics, with Daniel Craig as James Bond. And even more so last year – only a year ago! Isn’t that incredible? With that lovely sketch with Paddington Bear, an absolute enchantment.”
In the same conversation, Brandreth recalled the “nerve-wracking” experience of interviewing the late Prince Philip, with whom he developed a rapport through their mutual association with the National Playing Fields Association.
Brandreth said that writing the Duke of York’s biography was a “frightening experience”, in part because the royal disliked being interviewed, but also because he was a stickler for facts.
He apparently took issue with Brandreth’s description of his father “floating” down to the south of France, because he travelled by train.
“He was quite literal like that,” Brandreth said. “He corrected the proofs, which was a nightmare. But he didn’t challenge any opinion, he only challenged matters of fact. And he would put in the margins: ‘No. Incorrect.’”
In an interview with The Times after Prince Philip’s death in 2021, Brandreth said the “toughest times” for Philip and Elizabeth came “immediately after the coronation”, and in the late Nineties.
“Things went wrong for the royal family, but he had great perspective because he had seen it all,” Brandreath said. “Exile, deaths, abdications, Princess Margaret’s wedding and divorce, he had been through the rollercoaster ups and downs and he knew that this too would pass.”
Henley Literary Festival continues until 8 October.