21 May 2014 - 11:36
A review of Brian Hoey’s ‘At home with The Queen’


Deputy Editor

Brian Hoey’s ‘At Home with The Queen’ is a book for those Royal Watchers who love the intricate details of The Royal Household, giving those titbits you don’t normally hear. Mr Hoey secured the first ever TV interview with Princess Anne and has been a Royal commentator and reporter ever since, releasing numerous books. 

Most members of the Royal Family are spoken about in Hoey's book , with the exception of William and Harry who were not yet 21, and of course, Catherine.

Most members of the Royal Family are spoken about in Hoey’s book, with the exception of William and Harry who were not yet 21, and of course, Catherine.

Published in 2002, the year of the death of The Queen Mother, some may dismiss Hoey’s book as an outdated look into the Royal Household, but this is not the case. Yes, some of the figures given, like salaries, are sure to be different 12 years on, and often people in the Household will have changed, with promotions, secondments and retirements, however the book still holds much relevance for Royal Watchers, including the structure of the Household and the rigorous standards held by The Windsors.

Many interesting topics are covered in the 300-page book, and some are summed up on the back cover. Questions like:

  • ‘Why do [The Queen's] maids have to vacuum walking backwards?’
  • ‘Why are The Queen’s bedsheets six inches longer than Prince Philip’s?’
  • ‘Why does Prince Charles still have to send a written note to her Page of the Backstairs requesting a meeting with his mother?

embodiy the information this book offers; it is like a Royal Edition of ‘Through the Keyhole’.

Chapters include Pay Cheques, Likes and Dislikes, The Royal Bodyguards, and Royal Shopping Lists, showing Hoey has given us a comprehensive look at almost every aspect of the Queen’s life.  I enjoyed Hoey’s style, which was easy to follow, informal and explained things clearly, such as the roles of members of staff: some titles are not what you think they are!

A useful addition was a hierarchical table, showing who is at the top of the tree and who is at the bottom. Hoey also includes an index, as topics are not ordered in a particular fashion, so if you’re after that fact about The Queen’s maids, you can find it easily. The collection of photographs, though outdated now, are still a nice touch, showing a banquet table set up at Windsor, amongst other things.

Pay Cheques: Perhaps a surprise to some, the Queen’s staff are not well paid; Hoey notes that those of Prince Charles are often far better paid, since Charles has the income from the Duchy of Cornwall, whereas the Queen has to be seen to be economical with her costs, as wages are taken from the Privy Purse. For example, Charles’ Press Secretary in 2002 earned around £70,000, whereas the Queen’s only took home about £55,000.

The basic salary of a newly-trained housemaid or footmen is just £10,329, and a Head Housemaid can get a maximum of just £15,702 (in 2002). Chefs are paid better, with a ceiling of £26,218. Staff receive free uniforms, food and drink, and pay up to 17% of their wages for accommodation within Buckingham Palace, which is a lot less than the average London rent.

The Queen has to be seen to being economical - there is an electric fire in the fireplace!

The Queen has to be seen to being economical – there is an electric fire in the fireplace!

Hoey explains why staff stay in their positions: ‘the only reason the Royal Household is viable is because of the dedication of those who run it and their willingness to subsume their ambitions for the good of the monarchy’, but notes in his acknowledgements that his contributors have remained anonymous; if even after leaving the service of The Queen, employees are bound by confidentiality clauses. To epitomise this sentiment, Hoey quotes a response from the press when asked by The Palace how many ‘spies’ they have in the Royal Household: they’re not paid enough’.

Likes and Dislikes: The preferences of the Royals makes for one of the more interesting chapters, revealing a side to them the public rarely see, particularly humour, of which each of them has tonnes, and their quirks. I will go into more detail with these, as they are the unusual bits of information you would not see elsewhere (though of course you can buy the book!)

Round ice-cubes apparently sound nicer to the ear, so square ice cubes are never used in The Palace. All staff are called by their surname, except for junior footmen and personal valets, but Diana, Princess of Wales, preferred to call all her staff by their first name, or nickname if she knew it.

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The windows on the front of Buckingham Palace are never to be opened, nor the curtains drawn back, as it spoils the ‘chocolate-box’ nature of the façade. The Footmen loathe taking The Queen’s corgis for a walk; they must be walked every day in The Palace Gardens even if it is raining, though occasionally Her Majesty will take them herself on a pleasant day. 

The Queen enjoys Malvern still water, which is always carried with her, even abroad. When on an engagement, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting is to be made aware of the nearest toilet, which is to be reserved solely for the Queen whilst she is there, should she need to use it. Ever the diplomat, The Monarch never outright disagrees with someone. She will say ‘how fascinating’ in a variety of tones instead. 

The Queen's sitting room is in the rounded alcove on the back of the Palace. It is on this balcony the bagpipes are played every morning

The Queen’s sitting room is in the rounded alcove on the back of the Palace. It is on this balcony the bagpipes are played every morning

To answer the question about her bedsheets, the 88-year-old prefers a ‘deeper turn-back’ than her husband, and so they are 6 inches longer, but she does not have a duvet; The Queen has linen sheets and woollen blankets, and likes to be woken up each morning by the bagpipes on the terrace.

Prince Philip has his own barbershop annexed to his suite at the Palace, where his hair is cut once a week; his favourite tipple is Double Diamond beer. It is no longer commercially made, but bottled especially for The Duke of Edinburgh. Hoey claims Philip is ‘the most considerate of bosses’, and will back his staff in any disagreement, even if they are in the wrong, as long as he receives their loyalty and professionalism.

Prince Charles has a habit of checking food stocks to see that nothing goes to waste, but allows his staff access to all his cellars and food stocks when entertaining. Their Christmas ‘do is at the Ritz Hotel each year.

The Princess Royal doesn’t drink alcohol. Anne also hates being driven, and will drive herself, a policeman in the passenger seat; their job is to select a CD to play that she will like. 

This is just a snippet of what is divulged in the ‘Likes and Dislikes’ chapter; for me it is the most interesting chapter.

Many anecdotes add a little personality to the author’s writing, and though the sources are anonymous, I think many of the stories fit what I think a certain Royal is like privately, from media coverage. Hoey does not gloss over the less attractive qualities of some Royals. The Duke of Edinburgh can apparently have a sharp tongue, but once the matter is over, it is forgotten. This is also the case with Princess Anne. Hoey also claims that The Earl of Wessex is the most stingy employer when it comes to paying his staff and giving them Christmas gifts (which The Queen’s staff choose themselves in March, price dependent on length of service, but still act surprised to open them in front of their boss!).

Overall, this is a book for those who want to learn about how the Royal Household works, and to learn about the things that are not often talked about, like the money side of Royalty, though of course, the figures are no longer accurate. Hoey did release another version called ‘Not in front of The Corgis’, which was released in 2012, so will provide more up to date stats. I would highly recommend this book!

All figures and statistics are taken from Hoey’s book, and are from 2002. It is available here.

photo credit: London Summit , Mikepaws , and  The Puzzler via photopin cc

 



Spotted an Error?
Edited by Chloe Howard




  • Patrick

    “Hoey does not gloss over the less attractive qualities of some Royals.
    The Duke of Edinburgh can apparently have a sharp tongue, but once the
    matter is over, it is forgotten. This is also the case with Princess
    Anne”

    I do not begrudge any sense of superiority on their part. they are ROYALTY. The whole concept of it is that they’re better than we are. The notion that they’re somehow equal to us and we don’t have to bow etc etc….?? how depressing. the aloofness is integral to its very existance. otherwise just have cheryl cole be the queen of england.

    • chloe

      I understand your point and agree, but think you missed mine: I meant that he does not shy away from accusing the Royals of their flaws – the book is balanced, not just portraying them in a favourable light.


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