A day in the life of the Queen

·8-min read
The Queen at her desk at Windsor castle in 1977 (PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen at her desk at Windsor castle in 1977 (PA) (PA Archive)

The Queen’s daily life was dictated as much by official business as it was by her own favoured routines.

Her morning would begin early, at 7.30am when she woke from her slumber at the palace, ready for a freshly brewed cup of tea.

A neatly dressed royal maid would bring in a tray of two solid silver pots containing Earl Grey – which was the Queen’s favourite brew – and hot water for a top-up.

There was milk but no sugar and a few biscuits ahead of her proper breakfast.

The cup and saucer were bone china and there was also a linen napkin bearing the royal cypher “EIIR”.

The maid would put the morning tray on a bedside table, open the curtains and switch on the radio.

The Queen’s preference was BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

The maid would then go into the adjoining bathroom and run the Queen a bath.

Along the corridor, in his suite, the Duke of Edinburgh used to prefer to shower and drink black coffee.

While the Queen was taking a bath, her dresser would set out the first outfit of the day in the adjacent dressing room.

The Queen sometimes had to change several times a day, depending on her engagements.

After she dressed, the Queen’s hairdresser would brush and arrange her hair in its familiar style.

Breakfast was served at 8.30am in the Queen’s private, first-floor dining room overlooking the palace garden – from Tupperware containers.

A Daily Mirror reporter who breached palace security in 2003 to get a job as a footman is the source of much of what was known about this royal meal time.

Cereal was kept in the plastic tubs and a plate of fruit was put in place ready for the Queen.

Philip, who died in 2021, would also request an old-fashioned transistor radio, on his right, between the yoghurt and the fruit bowl.

A thick white napkin embroidered with the EIIR emblem was folded on the table next to the containers, along with a cup and saucer for Earl Grey tea, honey and maple syrup and silver spoons for the two types of light and dark marmalade.

Each item had its exact position, all brought by a tailcoated footman, who followed detailed plans on where to put things.

The Queen liked toast with light marmalade – although she often ended up feeding it to the corgis and dorgis.

She would read the Daily Telegraph as well as the Racing Post, but scanned all the morning papers and also received a batch of press cuttings each day.

Conversation would turn to the day’s official engagements but was often kept to a minimum.

The Queen’s kilted piper played for her every weekday at 9am for about 15 minutes while she was in residence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Edinburgh’s Holyroodhouse Palace or Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands.

By 9.30am, the Queen was usually seated at the Chippendale desk in her sitting room which also acted as an office.

On her desk were two inkwells which contained black ink used to sign official documents and green for personal letters.

She always used black blotting paper so that no-one could see what she had written and her stationery was kept in a leather folder bearing the royal crest.

Her dogs were brought to her after their morning walk.

Every day, between 200 and 300 letters from the public were taken to her desk.

The Queen would choose a selection to read herself and tell her staff how she would like them to be answered.

The Queen looks at some of her 80th birthday cards in the Regency Room at Buckingham Palace (Fiona Hanson/PA)
The Queen looks at some of her 80th birthday cards in the Regency Room at Buckingham Palace (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Virtually every letter was answered by staff in her private secretary’s office or by a lady-in-waiting.

The Queen then saw, separately, two of her staff, including her private secretary Sir Edward Young, with the daily quota of official paperwork, a process which took around an hour.

Mr Young would give a brief bow and address the Queen as “Your Majesty”. Subsequently he called her “Ma’am” – to rhyme with jam – and offered briefing notes on engagements and individuals the Queen was due to meet.

Every day of every year, wherever she was, the Queen received, from government ministers, and from her representatives in the Commonwealth and foreign countries, information in the form of policy papers, Cabinet documents, Foreign Office telegrams, a daily summary of events in Parliament, letters and other state papers.

These were sent up to her by the private secretaries in the famous “red boxes”. All of these papers had to be read and, where necessary, approved and signed.

If guests were expected at the palace, the housekeeper would be summoned and arrangements made.

Later in the morning, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting on duty would be called into the sitting room and asked to reply to correspondence.

In the mornings, the Queen would often see foreign diplomats presenting their credentials, military chiefs on their appointment or retirement, and English bishops and judges on their appointment.

Each private audience lasted between 10 and 20 minutes.

The Queen sometimes ended the morning seeing a number of government ministers in a meeting of the Privy Council.

On investiture days, the Queen moved to the palace ballroom for 11am to present the honours in the hour-long ceremony.

In later years, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Cambridge took over her investiture duties.

If she was spending the morning on engagements away from her desk, she would visit up to three venues before lunch.

Royal “away days” took the Queen, often accompanied by her husband before his retirement, out of London, on occasions overnighting on the Royal Train, to carry out a full day’s engagements in a city or region.

When she was at home at Buckingham Palace, lunch was usually eaten alone, although occasionally a lady-in-waiting was invited.

Every two months, she and the duke used to invite a dozen guests from a wide variety of backgrounds to an informal lunch.

Immediately after lunch, if she had time, the Queen liked to walk in the palace garden with her dogs, usually alone and undisturbed.

Sometimes there were engagements in the afternoon when the Queen travelled to a nearby event or, in summer, hosted a garden party.

At least three garden parties would take place at Buckingham Palace and a fourth at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

When the Queen went out on public engagements, she prepared by reading background notes about whom she was meeting and what she would be doing.

When in the capital, the Queen liked to be back in her palace suite by 5pm for high tea.

Sandwiches, scones, and the Queen’s favourite Dundee cake were served.

The corgis and dorgis would eat the crumbs and were sometimes treated to scones with jam and clotted cream.

For the Queen, jam would go on first and scone was pronounced “skon” to rhyme with “gone”.

After tea, the Queen returned to her desk for an hour or so and, if there were no evening engagements, retired to her private rooms.

On Wednesdays at 6.30pm, the Queen held an audience with the Prime Minister, following PM’s Questions in the House of Commons earlier in the day.

This varied if either the Queen or the Prime Minister were away. The day was changed or they spoke on the telephone.

The weekly meeting only took place when Parliament was in session, and their discussions remained strictly confidential.

As head of state, the Queen maintained close contact with the PM and with other Ministers of the Crown.

She acted as host to the heads of state of Commonwealth and other countries when they visited Britain, and received other notable visitors from overseas.

At about 7.30pm, a report of the day’s parliamentary proceedings, written by one of the Government’s whips, arrived, and the Queen always read this the same evening.

Dinner, when there were no guests and no public engagements, was a relaxed affair for the Queen and Philip who preferred to change into comfortable clothes rather than more formal wear.

The Queen was not overly interested in food. She did not much care for soup or spicy cuisine and liked lamb, roast beef, mutton, grouse and salmon.

She enjoyed a gin and Dubonnet cocktail and occasionally drank wine with dinner. She would take a polite sip of wine if offered it or for a toast.

Soberly, Malvern mineral water was also a royal favourite.

In October 2021, it was reported that the monarch – at the age of 95 – was advised by doctors to give up her evening Martini cocktail to help her deal with her busy schedule and to only drink alcohol on special occasions.

To relax, the Queen liked to watch television, do jigsaw puzzles and crosswords or play Scrabble.

Her favourite TV programmes over the years included Last Of The Summer Wine and The Bill.

But she often spent part of the evening working on her official despatch boxes which contained Government and Commonwealth documents.

She developed a form of speed reading to scan the sheer volume of pages she received.

Like all British monarchs, the Queen kept a diary from the beginning of her reign and she religiously wrote a page every day.

The Queen would usually be in bed by 11pm.