Resolute. Dour. Stoic yet resigned with a hint of maternal benevolence. Over the 67 years of her reign, the Queen has perfected her signature inscrutable look that everyone from Lucian Freud to Lord Snowdon to Andy Warhol have tried to capture.
The end result is dozens of portraits that bear a reasonable similarity, revealing a stately, unswerving ruler radiating dependability and steadfastness, with a hint of wistful resignation.
Which is what makes the shots of the Her Majesty included in her longtime dresser Angela Kelly’s new book, The Other Side of The Coinsuch a departure. So unusual were they that Kelly reveals that some inside palace gates feared the images would, DUH DUH DUHHHHH, “bring the Monarchy down”.
The reason? The Queen had the temerity to want to pose with her hands in the pockets of her dress.
Kelly writes: “Many years ago, Her Majesty disclosed something to me — a secret wish that she’d held since she was young. Throughout The Queen’s time on the throne, she has been photographed in countless formal ways.
“However, for a long time, Her Majesty wanted to be photographed more informally and have the freedom, for example, to pose with her hands in her pockets.”
And so, when Kelly released her first book, Dressing the Queen, in 2012, she worked up the courage to ask the longtime boss to do just that. To her surprise, she readily accepted.
On the day, when photographer Barry Jeffery started to explain how this unusual shoot would work, it turned out the Queen was more than adept at shaking things up.
“No, Barry, this is how we’re going to do it,” Kelly recounts her saying. “Just keep the camera rolling!”
“Her Majesty took her position in front of the lens and started striking a series of poses, slipping her hands in and out of her pockets and placing them onto her hips, mimicking the stances of a professional model,” Kelly says. “I stood by in disbelief — The Queen was a natural.”
Looking at the images, one thing leaps out — just how happy Her Majesty looks.
However, when the powers that be at the Royal Collection, which was publishing Kelly’s book saw the images, they were appalled.
“Once the full shoot had been shared more widely, their opinion was that these more candid photographs would bring the Monarchy down, and therefore they were not suitable for the public eye,” Kelly has revealed. “Why they thought that, I have no idea.”
All of which offers us a fascinating inside look into the arcane thinking of those who toil away for the royal family, steeped in a codified version of propriety that belongs in the Downton Abbey era.
It also offers the briefest glimpse of the real woman who exists behind that rictus smile, and who despite being one of the most famous people in the world, is still a cipher. (How sad that it took her until she was in her 80s to have the bravery to buck tradition and do as she wished, despite being THE QUEEN.)
But there is a much bigger picture here. In a spooky and ironic twist, on this very day one year ago exactly Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex was publicly castigated by UK newspapers for putting her hands in her pockets during an official outing.
“‘Hands in pockets is a step too far’: Etiquette expert critiques Meghan’s ‘casual’ pose” and “‘Step too far’ Meghan Markle slammed for putting her hands in pockets” were two notable headlines.
It is impossible to imagine a more perfect example of the ingrained hypocrisy Meghan has faced since joining the royal family in 2018. While Kelly’s story about the Queen quietly celebrates Her Majesty’s rebelliousness and appetite to confound expectations, the stories about Meghan betray the constant fault finding and carping coverage she faces.
It is depressing to think that the very qualities that are celebrated in Her Majesty are read as faults in her granddaughter-in-law. And it is appalling that in 2012 the notion of a respected world leader wanting to put her hands in her pockets was deemed so outrageous it could imperil an 1192-year-old institution.
And perhaps that is the more fascinating insight: If some insiders believe that a simple, relatively benign photograph is a threat to the survival of the monarchy then just how viable is its future really?
This is exactly why the royal family needs Meghan. The Queen waited until she was 86-years-old to flout convention. They can’t afford to wait another 86 to really start shaking things up or they are doomed.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of leading Australian titles.
Originally published as Photo that could ‘bring down monarchy’