THE AFTERNOON THE QUEEN PHONED / OH COMELY

I wasn’t in the office when they found the voicemail, but they played it to me afterward. The identity of the caller was unmistakable—that famous voice, buffered by nine decades of social change, but still essentially the same as it had always been.

We were surprised that she hadn’t asked her private secretary to call, but it’s probably the sort of thing she wanted to do herself. She announced herself as the Queen, presumably because saying, “Hi, it’s Liz here,” would be unbecoming, and “This is Your Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God,” would be a bit much. There was something else too; beneath the clipped, formal tone, she seemed nervous, but maybe I’m just reading too much into it considering everything that happened afterwards.

On the voicemail, the Queen explained that she’d been drawn to oh comely while waiting to be received at a girls’ school in Frome. The magazine was in the common room, and when the headteacher returned to escort her to the lunch she was midway through reading a piece on making your own coracle. On her return to Windsor Castle she asked a lady-in-waiting to get a copy of the magazine.

The Queen never got around to making the coracle, but she did make a pinhole camera a month later, she said, using it to take pictures of Phillip and the grounds of Balmoral. She got a subscription shortly after that, using her middle names Alexandra Mary as a wry pseudonym.

Perhaps realising that she was getting distracted, the Queen explained the purpose behind her call: she wanted someone from oh comely to interview her. She didn’t elaborate on what had informed her decision, only that she’d give us an hour of her time and that someone should come to the Goring Hotel the following Thursday, at 20:00. The Queen then bade us a good day, and hung up. It was to be the first interview she’d ever granted to anyone.

The task of conducting the interview, inevitably, had already been taken by the time I’d even arrived at the office. Brushing off the disappointment, I reminded myself what a terrifying assignment it would be. The call to tell me that the terrifying assignment was now mine came early on the Thursday morning, after the original interviewer pulled out for reasons never fully explained to me. I spent the rest of the day frantically reading up on the Queen and searching the internet for information on the appropriate etiquette for being in her presence. I arrived in Belgravia a full hour early, making circuits of the hotel until it was time to go in.

– – – – –

The afternoon the Queen phoned, Published in Oh Comely Issue Sixteen

Some people in the office think the whole thing was a prank, but I find that hard to believe. When I arrived at the hotel the concierge knew exactly who I was and why I was there. Approaching me later, as I was cradling my cup of tea and trying to remember all the questions I’d jotted down, the look of disappointment on his face appeared genuine. The Queen was feeling unwell, he told me, and wouldn’t be able to make it.

Even after the news reports came out and she started cancelling public appearances, I never really believed she was ill. I have no proof that the Queen was faking her gastroenteritis, and it seems like an awfully elaborate ruse to get out of a 45-minute interview, but my opinion is that she got cold feet at the last minute and backed out, maybe even as she was being driven the short distance from Buckingham Palace to the hotel.

I don’t know why she cancelled, or why she’d suggested the interview in the first place. I’d like to think that after a lifetime of solemnly, dutifully guarding her opinions, she got tired of it, and just wanted to talk about what it was like to live a life where the extraordinary is ordinary. We never heard from her again, and all calls to the Royal Household were met with a studied politeness that seemed to mask disdain. The Queen remains the most famous person in the country and the least knowable.

When I came to writing this up, I reread the notes I’d made during that fretful afternoon of research and terror. It seems a shame to let them go to waste, so I will present some of them here. “Alexandra Mary” still has a subscription to the magazine, so I presume she’ll be reading this. Even though she denied herself the chance to answer these questions, I hope she can do so now, if only to herself, in a drawing room perhaps, or on a slow journey to visit strangers in Dunfermline, Abercynon, Dudley, or some other far-flung corner of her realm.

 

interview notes

What sort of attachment do you feel to Britain and its people? Do you feel genuine compassion for the country, or is it more like a duty? Do you lie awake at night worrying about the economy and wars the way other people lie awake worrying about bills and whether they’ll find love?

When were you happiest in your life? Are you ever lonely?

Do you ever step outside of yourself and think, “Wow, I’m the Queen”? What sort of event provokes this reaction?

When you were young, was there anything you wanted to grow up to be? If you hadn’t been born into royalty, what would you have liked to have done with your life? Do you ever wish you could be someone else?

Do you ever feel sorry for Charles having to grow up groomed for a job he can only get on the event of your death?

Do you genuinely believe that God intends for you to rule the country? Do you ever wish you had the absolute power that your distant predecessors possessed?

Do you actively dislike any parts of Britain?

Do you think the British Empire is something to be ashamed of, or something to take a reserved pride in, whilst acknowledging many failings? Do you miss it? Do you wish you could have also been the Empress of India?

What’s your favourite joke?

If, for whatever complicated reason, you had to abdicate and give me the throne, what advice would you give me for being Britain’s ruling monarch? What are the most important things I’d need to know?

 

Published in Oh Comely Issue Sixteen. To read the original article click here.

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