It may be that by the time this issue of the LRB is published, the monarchy-obliterating secret that lurks on Fleet St will have been revealed and the last of the Windsors will be preparing for exile in Bermuda, or some other far-flung corner of their former realm: Port Stanley, say, or Balmoral. Paul Burrell will have packed their bags for them one last time. The 'irony' of which, as Burrell would say (the only words that he misuses more often are 'surreal' and 'enormity'), is that he's a die-hard monarchist, as he reveals in his memoir, A Royal Duty (Michael Joseph, £17.99), a book at once agonisingly boring and shamefully fascinating. Much the most interesting bits are the insights into such things as what the Queen has (or used to have) for breakfast: 'one slice of granary toast, a smear of butter and a thin layer of dark, chunky marmalade', since you ask. She enters her dining-room every morning prompt at nine o'clock, 'carrying her old-fashioned Roberts radio tuned permanently to BBC Radio 2'. One of her two personal footmen (Burrell, from April 1978 to August 1987) butters the toast, but she makes her own Earl Grey tea, in a silver teapot, with water boiled in an electric kettle. I was rather impressed by her mucking in like this, until I learned (not from Burrell) that it's one of the many royal traditions started by George III. Shortly before one o'clock, she 'often made herself a large glass of her favourite pre-luncheon tipple, gin and Dubonnet, in equal half measures, with two lumps of ice and a slice of lemon'. I don't suppose this practice originated with George III, but you never know. Burrell once entered the royal sitting-room, 'late at night, not long before bedtime, and there she sat, in a smart silk dress in her chair at the desk near the window. She was wearing the Imperial State Crown. And her pink mule slippers.' She wasn't revelling in being Queen just for the hell of it, but getting accustomed to the weight of the crown for the State Opening of Parliament the next day: at least, that's what she told Burrell.
LRB 20 November 2003 | PDF Download