In the States we have to wait until January 3, 2016, for the final series of Downton Abbey to begin. In order to tide you over between now and then, we’re happy to provide a little British fix. Why not pour yourself a cup of Mrs. Patmore’s Pudding Tea (it’s delish)
and enjoy it with homemade scones while you continue reading?
Meet Dickie Arbiter, former Press Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II
When she told me that he had been the Press Officer for Buckingham Palace for a number of years, I jumped at the chance to attend knowing it was as close to rubbing elbows with royalty as I would ever get. The stage set the proper mood, complete with faux corgis (the Queen owns three now and has owned 30 over time).
Mr. Arbiter managed the press activities of the royals for 12 years. He describes Queen Elizabeth as a 5’4″ whirlwind, not ready or willing to step down after 60+ years on the throne. He touched on numerous subjects (pun intended), and I was surprised at his candor.
Curtsying and Hand Shaking
About the long-held beliefs that one must not touch the Queen or shake her hand and that one must curtsy when introduced, Mr. Arbiter dispelled the notion those protocols were dictated by the Queen. In fact, she is easy-going (she likes to bowl!). He thinks all of those rules were developed by her staff over the years to protect her.
Charles and Diana
During his tenure, Mr. Arbiter was charged with managing the press activities for Charles and Diana, no easy task since for the most of their married life they were in two different places with different people. He believes both were at fault in the failure of their marriage, describing them as intellectually polar opposites: Charles being more cerebral, Diana more street-wise. However, he did say Diana had more classical training than she ever was credited for possessing. He relayed a moment when Diana visited a school and was asked to play the piano for the children. She played a few Tchaikovsky pieces from memory for 15 minutes.
Will the Queen Step Down?
Arbiter does not foresee that happening. He cited the Queen’s repeated affirmation that she is Queen for Life. He reinforced that she takes her words seriously, as when she spoke to the nation on her 21st birthday broadcast in 1947,
I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family.
She reiterated her feelings when she celebrated her Jubilee year on the throne,
In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness … I hope also that this Jubilee year will be a time to give thanks for the great advances that have been made since 1952 and to look forward to the future with clear head and warm heart.
Royal Q & A
The presentation concluded with a Q & A session to which the audience proved it was a bottomless pit of curiosity.
Q: What does the Queen do with all of her hats?
A: All of her garments are stored, remodeled and worn again.
Q: Is Harry really the son of Charles?
Q: Do Charles and Camilla have a happy marriage?
Q: When Charles ascends to the throne will Camilla be Queen?
Q: If Camilla will be Queen, why isn’t Prince Phillip the King?
A: It just doesn’t work that way. It’s complicated.
Q: What does the Queen carry in her purse?
A: A hanky, lipstick and powder compact. A lady-in-waiting carries a spare pair of stockings.
Q: Is the Queen allowed to vote?
Back to Downton Abbey
A fortuitous timing of Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times at the Virginia Historical Society coincides with this vigil until Season 6 of Downton Abbey airs. The exhibit brings to life the character’s costumes from the series.
Alison, jCb and I saw a version of this at Winterthur in 2014 and can attest to its charm and authenticity. If you can’t make it to the exhibit in RVA, you can see our coverage of it here.
As I relived Dickie Arbiter’s appearance while writing this post, I thought to myself what a curious institution the 1,000-year-old Monarchy is, but
wouldn’t it be nice to have a lady-in-waiting?
November 5, 2015