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Five Minutes With… Edwina Currie

As part of our new series ‘Five Minutes With…’, Royal Central will be speaking to an array of well-known faces including celebrities, politicians and royal experts. To kick off our new monthly series, we are pleased to interview former Health Minister and Author, Edwina Currie.

Born in Liverpool, Edwina has had a varied career having won a scholarship to study philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford. From there, Edwina entered politics, having been elected a Member of Parliament in the 1983 election where she served in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Edwina lost her seat in the 1997 election and has since turned to writing and broadcasting. Among the works she has published are her diaries which revealed her affair with former Prime Minister John Major. As of late, she has appeared on television programmes including I’m a Celebrity and Strictly Come Dancing.

Edwina has had many encounters with The Royal Family and is a supporter of the Monarchy. She says that her downstairs loo is full of pictures of herself beside The Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales, joking that she struggles to get guests out of there because they are examining the photos! We are very pleased that Edwina has kindly agreed to speak to Royal Central about her experience of Monarchy, kicking off our new series.

What are your views on the Monarchy? Is it a good thing which brings with it stability, or an archaic system which belongs in the past?

I’m in favour. It’s very useful to separate out the roles of head of government (our elected Prime Minister) and Head of State (The Queen). Over centuries the UK has settled the constitutional arguments as to powers and responsibilities, and I find the arrangement works very well.

Can you tell us about your experiences with the British Royal Family? What are they like as people?

I first met the Queen when she came to the Oxford Union Society, the ancient debating society at Oxford University. I was presented to her. I think her lady in waiting was the sister of the OUS President, that’s how we got her! I’ve met her several times since, including when I was chairman of Birmingham Social Services in 1978. We built a new hostel for people with learning disabilities, and there was a great fuss about it – a lot of prejudice in those days. So I said crossly, “I will get the Queen to open it, and then you will all want to be there!” and bless her, she came. Wonderful!

This month marks 20 years since the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. What are your memories of her?

I have a picture of me meeting the Princess of Wales in 1987. She was very tall and very glamorous! A mixed up lady, there is no doubt. She did wonderful work on AIDS/HIV, tackling the stigma and prejudice head on; it made such a difference. Best to remember the good bits now, perhaps?

You say you have had some experience with one of the hardest working royals, Princess Anne. Can you tell us more?

My favourite is the Princess Royal, Princess Anne. I first met her in 1982 (I think) when she represented the Begum Aga Khan at the opening of a new wing on Birmingham Children’s hospital, which the Ismaili community had helped pay for. We toured the whole building together, and as we had a quick cup of tea, I asked her how she managed to do so much and look so fresh with great photos. “We are taught to stand up straight with our weight over both heels, it’s less tiring,” she said. “And when you have a photo taken, just look straight at the camera, keep still and smile. Quickest like that.” Excellent advice.

Princess Anne was President of the Save the Children Fund when I was a government Minister in the 1980s, and would often come and brief us about what she had seen on her trips, speaking without notes and from the heart. She was also President of the Riding Schools for the Disabled; when our local one had a big anniversary, she came and spent nearly all day there, despite the pouring rain. On another occasion I was at a Buckingham Palace garden party, watching in amusement as she worked the crowds so expertly, making everyone feel special. Suddenly she turned round and spotted me. “Hello!” she said, “what are you doing here?” (I suppose she meant whether I was representing a charity). “Gawping at you, ma’am,” I grinned, and she laughed and moved away.

The Duke of Edinburgh retired from public duty earlier this month. What impact do you think this will have on The Queen? 

The Queen will never retire or abdicate; she has made that clear. She swore to do her duty life long when she was 25 and she means it. I expect that the Queen and Duke discussed it all, along with other members of the “Firm” as they call it, and that is why Prince William is now taking on a full time role.

Speaking of Prince Philip, you have been heavily involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Awards – a programme that has been running for over 60 years now. Can you tell us why this is so important to you?

I was one of the early DofE award winners back in the 1960s – I only managed the Bronze award then A levels took over! But more recently I did Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, which included a 20km overnight challenge. It was organised by local D of E. Afterwards, we were all invited to St James’s to meet the Duke but I think I was the only one who attended. Then I got asked to help out with the Award ceremonies, and did for several years.

Finally, what do you think the future will bring for Monarchy in Britain? 

The future looks very bright with Prince William, Catherine and their children. They are hard working and genuine. They have far better people skills than Prince Charles, so it remains to be seen how he will get on when it’s his time to become king.

Thank you to Edwina Currie for her fascinating tales of meeting royalty. Next month, another famous face will be sharing their experiences – so do stay tuned!