The Secret Life of ER Indoors; BIOGRAPHY
Byline: JANE SHILLING
ELIZABETH THE QUEEN
By Sally Bedell Smith
(Penguin [pounds sterling]6.99 [pounds sterling]6.49)
SHE is 5ft 4in, with blue eyes, once-dark hair that has been allowed to turn silver, and a GSOH. She likes dogs, horses and political gossip. She prefers her steak well done and dislikes soup, modern art and Visconti's film Death In Venice. She writes letters of condolence about the deaths of pet animals, but not about human deaths. She does not sweat.
She once blew her nose and showed the contents of her handkerchief to the racing trainer, Ian Balding. She has a habit of reapplying her lipstick at the luncheon table.
No one is supposed to touch her, yet people, including Michelle Obama, seem unable to prevent themselves from committing this frightful breach of protocol. She is, of course, The Queen.
The thing about the Queen is that we seem to know both quite a lot about her, and almost nothing. Hers is one of the most documented lives of anyone living. Since birth, she has been photographed, painted, recorded on radio, television and film, yet she remains a remote figure.
We know that she is happy when her racehorses win, and that she wept, briefly and uncharacteristically, at the decommissioning of the Royal Yacht. But otherwise, with very rare exceptions (she is apparently not a fan of the London Congestion Charge), we have very little notion what she thinks about anything.
This does not, of course, deter us from speculating. The idea of a person who keeps their thoughts to themselves is almost scandalous in this age of Twitter and Facebook, when every passing notion that ripples across the minds of most of us is instantly immortalised in electronic print. There is something rather undemocratic about such a silence. But then there is something rather undemocratic about the Queen. And that is the point of her.
To undertake the biography of this 'riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma' (to borrow an expression used by the Queen's first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill) is a daunting task.
THE publishers promise that 'this intimate biography', to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee this year, 'is a treasure trove of fresh insights on her public persona and her private life'.
Certainly, its author, Sally Bedell Smith, is experienced at exploring the private and public lives of great figures of our time. She is an American journalist and contributing editor at Vanity Fair whose previous books include biographies of Diana, Princess of Wales, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Winston Churchill's wayward daughter-in-law, Pamela Churchill Harriman.
The research for some of these previous works has evidently come in handy in the present volume, which inevitably dwells at length on the turbulent phenomenon that was Princess Diana, but also offers some fascinating vignettes of Jacqueline Kennedy's encounter with the Queen during the Kennedys' 1961 visit to London.
Mrs Kennedy confided to the gossip-loving American author, Gore Vidal, that she found the Queen 'pretty heavy-going', and speculated that 'I think she resented me. …