Lifting the lid on the royal marriage -- the tears, the heartbreak, and the worst day of the Queen's life
Royal biographer Sarah Bradford tells
Published 03/12/2011 | 05:00
According to one renowned royal commentator, the queen is more popular now than ever before.
"It may be an unkind thing to say, but I think William and Kate's wedding has been a fitting rounding-off for her because there is a future -- and what a charming future it looks for those two," says royal biographer Sarah Bradford, otherwise known as Viscountess Bangor through her marriage to an Irish peer.
"I think the queen is at the peak of her popularity since the coronation," she says. "People are grateful to her for being who and what she is. They see a radiant, unchanging, calm-at-the-centre figure, a steady hand, a person who represents something."
The only time the queen's image as a beacon of continuity was clouded and the monarchy trembled, she believes, was one week in the late summer of 1997. "Without doubt, the week that Diana died was her worst moment. I was struck by the weird feeling around. It was very restless and potentially dangerous. A military historian told me that the police wanted the army called in.
"The army, very sensibly, refused to contemplate any such action, but it does show the level of apprehension there was in official circles about what could happen. Unseen in Balmoral, the royal family appeared not to care.''
Ms Bradford adds: "Then the queen pulled things round with her broadcast on the eve of the funeral. She really seemed to feel what she said. She was deeply upset. ''
Diana's legacy, Ms Bradford believes, was to establish a less restrained model for the modern monarchy.
Calm, measured and laconic, Ms Bradford does not seem the kind of woman to stir up controversy, but she took a terrific battering after 'Elizabeth', the biography published on the queen's 70th birthday. In its 576 otherwise authoritative pages, Ms Bradford pronounced on the royal couple's satisfactory sex life, then stated incontrovertibly that Prince Philip had affairs -- a subject that biographers before and since have dipped into with a very long spoon. There was hardly a columnist in the country who didn't have a go at her ("tittle-tattle", "one vulgarity too far", "tasteless").
Ms Bradford argues that if she had not addressed the rumours, her book would have been dismissed as a whitewash. And besides, she had a source she had no reason to disbelieve. "When you are absorbed in a biographical subject", she says, "you get so close you don't realise the potential effect of what you say. You are trying to get at the truth. At the time, that was what I thought and that was what I had been told by people who should know. I will not break confidentiality by naming names, but you would have believed them, too.
"Now, I think perhaps I got it wrong over Prince Philip. I think he loves pretty women and he likes flirting but I'm not sure how important actual sex is to him, put it that way. And from that point of view, he and the queen got on very well. They have a very good relationship. It has always been one of mutual admiration and support."
Even if liaisons did take place, she goes on, the queen was of an era when a blind eye could be turned to infidelity in the interests of keeping a marriage together.
"You can never see her reacting as Diana did (to Prince Charles's continuing relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles)," says Ms Bradford. "It was awful for Diana because she was very young, her family life had been hard when her mother left and she was looking for love. She got thoroughly disappointed and devastated."
Following Andrew Morton's revelations about the sorry state of that marriage, Ms Bradford says Prince Philip tried to persuade them to stay together, living separate lives. "Unfortunately for the prince's plan, Diana was too modern and too emotional to play the classic role of consort tolerating her husband's mistress.''
Ms Bradford suggests that if the queen had kept a firmer rein on her children, there would not have been so much unedifying behaviour. "It is hard to imagine Queen Victoria permitting such nonsense."
The young Sarah won a scholarship for Oxford and at 17 became one of the last debutantes to be presented at court -- her only personal encounter with the queen. She eventually married a viscount but not until she had travelled some of the world's most exclusive resorts with her first husband, Anthony Bradford.
Later working in the book department at Christie's, she met her current husband, William Ward, an antiquarian bookseller, and they married in 1976. In 1993, he became Viscount Bangor, inheriting just a signet ring and a sugar bowl. The stately home in Co Down went to the government in lieu of death duties. (© Daily Telegraph, london)
'Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life In Our Times', by Sarah Bradford, published December 6