'HAS the Queen of England ever given an interview?" the Dublin cabbie asked me. Yes, she gave one interview, in 1923, and decided never to repeat the experience.
The constitutionalist Walter Bagheot had written that monarchy must keep some mystique if it is to flourish: do not let too much daylight in on the magic, as he put it. Perhaps that was a counsel borne in mind.
In one way, Elizabeth II is unknowable.
For almost 60 years, she has carried out duty after duty, always and at all times following correct procedure, even when it was a duty that could not have been been to her taste -- perhaps legislation she has had to promise to put her name to, on opening parliament, or witnessing Britain move away from closeness to the Commonwealth and towards the European Union.
The rise and rise of Scottish nationalism cannot be congenial either.
But never has she visibly swayed from her constitutional position, which is that a monarch has no politics, and in practice no vote.
Only once did some hint of her political thinking emerge: it was said that she was concerned Mrs Thatcher might have been a "divisive" force at the time of the miners' strike in 1984.
Elizabeth's personal feelings have emerged only once or twice -- most evidently after her "annus horribilis" of 1992, when everything seemed to go wrong in her family, and her voice broke a little when she mentioned it.
Elizabeth II is perhaps the most famous woman in the world, and yet she remains in so many ways unknowable. Spin doctors have tried to suggest that she should smile more, but it is not in her personality to put on a fake showbiz smile. Her face in composure often bears a serious expression.
As it happens, in recent years she has seemed to smile more -- spontaneously. She is 85, and at that age the tempests of life usually give way to the reflection of experience, and the wise perception that everything passes, everything changes, and sometimes things just go back to the way they were -- as illustrated by the charming recent royal wedding when William married Kate, and a feudal ceremony utterly touched a contemporary and even globalised audience.
One doesn't have to smile to feign pleasure at 85, but one may smile more because as life moves towards its final decades one feels more benign about the world.
Yet there is one context in which Queen Elizabeth seems almost a different person from that of the monarch assiduously carrying out a necessary duty: and that is when she is in the company of horses. I once saw her engaged in deep conversation with an Irish jockey in the paddock at Ascot.
The jockey in question spoke with a strong Kildare/Tipperary accent: he was small, wiry and dark-eyed, and could have been one of the Travelling people. But between himself and Elizabeth there was clearly a conversation of virtual equality: she was interested in what he knew about -- the horse.
He knew he was talking to someone who knew a great deal about their common subject -- the horse.
There was a look on the queen's face of total absorption in something she loved, and her interest was mirrored by his.
That is when you get a glimpse of the essence of any person -- when they are involved in something they love. I feel sure that the queen will carry out all her duties this week, in a very full itinerary, with absolute attention to correct procedure.
But if you are looking for the woman behind the monarch, watch her at the National Stud, when she comes to see our beautiful Irish horses.
That will be the moment when the truly personal emerges from behind the public persona.