Two American tourists once mistook the Queen for a member of her staff at Balmoral while she was gardening, only for her to reveal her true identity and surprise the pair, according to an anecdote told by a former Scottish first minister.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale recalled hearing the tale from the Queen and recounted it in the House of Lords as peers met to pay tribute after she died on Thursday.
The anecdote is not the only one told about the Queen’s interactions with unsuspecting American tourists.
A former royal protection officer has told a story about a time when two American tourists did not recognise the Queen while walking near her royal residence at Balmoral.
Lord McConnell also told peers how the Queen used to race her staff when those at Balmoral met to have barbecues.
The Labour peer said: “Balmoral was a very special place to the Queen. It was a place where not only did she conduct official duties but she was able to relax and have fun with official visitors and with family and friends.”
He went on: “Some of us have had the incredible privilege of enjoying those barbecues, not at Sandringham in my case but at Balmoral, where she would pretend to race with her staff up through the hills to the cottage where the barbecues took place, jokingly racing, where she would always say to me that she knew that they were never going to try and pass her.”
Lords across the chamber laughed, and Lord McConnell went on: “But she had to pretend to be part of the race anyway and win and get there first.”
He described how the Queen “rolled up her sleeves” and helped set a fire and set the table, then helped clear up afterwards.
Telling the story of mistaken identity, Lord McConnell said: “As first minister I enjoyed those moments more than I ever expected to. My nerves went after the first year. And then as years went by we enjoyed sharing stories and experiences.
“And I recall in particular a moment where the Queen told a story about two American tourists who had been on a bus trip and had wandered round the back of Balmoral to the rose garden where she was tending the roses with a headscarf and sunglasses on.
“And of course they didn’t recognise her. So they broke into conversation. They were asking her what it was like to work for the Queen, did the Queen never tend the roses herself.
“And she played along with it for about five minutes or so. And they were very grateful for the opportunity to hear so much about the life of the Queen from one of her staff.
“And they went back round to the bus to leave Balmoral and she very quickly nipped into the kitchen, took her headscarf off and the sunglasses off, went out the front door and waved goodbye to the bus, only to see these two American tourists looking out the window.
“That great sense of humour and fun was remarkable, and it was a privilege to have seen it up close,” the Labour peer added.