The Queen by the people who knew her

The queen smiling
In her inner circle, the Queen was renowned for her sense of humour. (Getty Images)

As one of the most famous women in the world, there was always public intrigue in the Queen's life. Yet little was ever known about her true personality. While younger royals – and even her late husband Prince Philip – made documentaries and gave interviews, Her Majesty never spoke to the Press. She kept her thoughts to herself while family, friends and staff remained – mostly – tight-lipped.

But occasionally, someone close to her would share a tantalising glimpse of the woman behind the walls of Windsor.

"She was much livelier in private than what the public saw," revealed royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith. "You could hear her laugh throughout that big house. She had a big laugh."

In fact, the Queen was well-known in inner circles for her sense of humour, particularly her impressions and accents. In a rare interview in 2007, her loyal dressmaker Angela Kelly said that Her Majesty had a real talent for mimicking people – even Kelly's own Liverpudlian twang.

"We had a lot of fun together," she said. "The Queen had a wicked sense of humour and was a great mimic. She could do all accents – including mine."

Royal author Karen Dolby agreed, recounting another time when The Queen was driving to Ascot races in an open carriage and there was a loud shout from the crowd. "Charles did not hear what was said and asked his mother," said Dolby. "'Gizza wave Liz!' the Queen replied in her best South London accent, waving obligingly at the spectators."

But it wasn't just people the Queen could imitate. Bishop Michael Mann, the monarch's domestic chaplain said one of her other impressions was hilarious.

"The Queen imitating Concorde landing was one of the funniest things you could see," he said.

The Queen received an honorary Bafta from actor and director Kenneth Branagh in recognition of a lifetime's support of British film and television – and for being the most
The Queen received an honorary Bafta from actor-director Kenneth Branagh in recognition of her support of British film and television – and for being the most 'memorable Bond girl yet' during a reception celebrating the British film industry at Windsor Castle in 2013. (Getty Images)

Her Majesty's sense of humour was on full display when she took part in the famous James Bond film at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Angela Kelly says that the Queen had to consider being in the film for "just five minutes" before she accepted.

"She was very amused by the idea and agreed immediately," she said. "I asked if she would like a speaking part. Without hesitation, Her Majesty replied: 'Of course I must say something. After all, he is coming to rescue me.'"

"I asked whether she would like to say: 'Good evening, James,' or 'Good evening, Mr Bond' and she chose the latter, knowing the Bond films. Within minutes I was delivering the news to [director Danny Boyle] – I think he almost fell off his chair when I said that the Queen's only stipulation was that she could deliver that iconic line: 'Good evening, Mr Bond.'"

Read more: How Her Majesty reached the mighty age of 96

The relationship the Queen had with her grandchildren was always close and in the bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Prince Harry admitted that he had a "really good relationship" with his grandmother. On her 90th birthday he revealed a little about her abundance of energy. "I have been asking her for years what her secret is, but she won’' tell me," he said.

His brother Prince William, who will one day be the monarch himself, said his grandmother was never one to impose rules on him. "I've been able to explore, understand, slightly carve my own path," he said. "She has never dictated what we should do."

Meanwhile, Princess Eugenie once revealed how much her grandmother loved Balmoral. "She [the Queen] really loves the Highlands," she said at the time. "Family-wise we're all there, so it's a lovely base for Granny... where you just have room to breathe and run."

The Queen stopped to view a group of corgi dogs during her visit to Canada back in May 2005, spending several minutes talking with owners and petting the animals. (Reuters)
The Queen stopped to view a group of corgi dogs during her visit to Canada back in May 2005, spending several minutes talking with owners and petting the animals. (Reuters)

Another royal relative, Margaret Rhodes, first cousin to the Queen once revealed a little more of the Queen’s passion for animals: "Perhaps she didn't repress her feelings," she said. "Perhaps she channelled them through her animals. Dogs are faithful. And they don't tell tales... All I know is that the real love of her life, then, as now, was dogs followed by horses."

Read more: The Queen's favourite things

The Queen was said to be a gracious host who enjoyed throwing parties. "She loved receiving guests and knew how to put people at ease," said writer Reinaldo Herrera, who knew the Queen for many years. "At Buckingham Palace, she would stand at the top of the stairs, welcoming everyone. She was wonderful at mixing old and new friends. The Queen loved dancing to her favourite tunes by Lester Lanin, whose orchestra played at some of her parties."

Watch: Remembering the late HM Queen Elizabeth II