Queen’s grandchildren saw their grandmother as ‘the boss’

·7-min read

The Queen leaves behind a large family of adoring grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She was a mother of four, grandmother to eight and great-granny to 12 youngsters.

Her grandchildren – Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn – all held a deep respect and admiration for their granny.

Royalty – Royal Family Board Britannia – Southampton
The Queen with three of her grandchildren – Zara Phillips, Prince William and Peter Phillips, on board Britannia in 1985 (Ron Bell/PA)

The Duke of Cambridge once said: “She may be my grandmother, but she is also very much the boss.”

The Queen experience and unprecedented knowledge of royal matters meant she was well placed to offer advice to the younger members of the family as they navigated their way through life in the monarchy.

Ahead of William’s 2011 wedding, the Queen told him to “bin” a list of 777 dignitaries, governors and others he was given as potential guests, as it contained no-one he knew.

Royal Windsor Horse Show
The Queen with her daughter-in-law the Countess of Wessex (centre) and granddaughter Lady Louise Windsor at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2011 (Steve Parsons/PA)

William told author Robert Hardman: “I rang her up the next day and said ‘Do we need to be doing this?’ And she said ‘No. Start with your friends first and then go from there’. And she told me to bin the list.

“She made the point that there are certain times when you have to strike the right balance. And it’s advice like that which is really key, when you know that she’s seen and done it before.”

But the Queen was also a stickler for tradition and she remained set on customs and procedures, as well as matters that affected the future or workings of the institution.

William had wanted to wear his RAF uniform to his wedding, but the Queen insisted he wore his red tunic of the Irish Guards as Colonel of the regiment – his most senior military role.

The Royal Wedding
William, in his red tunic, and his new bride Catherine in front of the Queen on his wedding day (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

“I was given a categorical ‘no, you’ll wear this’,” William said.

He added: “That ‘no’ is a very good ‘no’. So you just do as you’re told.”

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex wanted to step down as senior royals, carry out royal duties but still earn their own money, the Queen remained firm – there would be no half-in, half-out role for Harry and Meghan.

In the end, after a Megxit crisis summit, they quit as senior working royals completely and moved to California.

Harry was devastated when the Queen subsequently stripped him of his honorary military roles.

Whereas some flexibility could have allowed Harry to keep the posts, it was another illustration of the Queen keeping rigidly to rules and tradition.

Queen and Harry
Harry and the Queen during a reception to meet teams of wounded servicemen and women (Yui Mok/PA)

But Harry had a great affection for the Queen.

They once appeared in a spoof video together to promote the Invictus Games, with the Queen dismissing a challenge from the then US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle with “Oh really, please”.

Harry echoed William’s thoughts, saying in 2016: “I still view her more as the Queen than my grandmother. You have this huge amount of respect for your boss and I always view her as my boss.”

He described his respect for her, with Meghan saying how “wonderful” she was, in the same Oprah interview in which they accused the royal family of racism.

The Princess Royal’s daughter Zara Tindall was close to her grandmother, sharing a love of horses and riding.

The grandchildren would greet the Queen with a kiss on both cheeks followed by a curtsey or a bow.

Queen and Zara Phillips
The Queen greets her granddaughter Zara Phillips (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Zara once said: “I curtsey to her every time I see her.

“The thing with my grandmother is she is still my grandmother and she’s very approachable, but she’s also from an era where that was how it was done.”

All the grandchildren have fond memories of family summers spent with the Queen at Balmoral, Christmases at Sandringham and visits to Windsor.

Peter Phillips, the Queen’s eldest grandson, said, to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday: “We had a lot of fun and there was a lot of space for kids to run around in and it wasn’t just us, it was the Waleses (William and Harry) Freddie and Ella Windsor and the Gloucesters,” he said.

“So there was quite a gang of us growing up in that age and it was a lot of fun. We caused quite a bit of mayhem and chaos.”

The Queen and four of her grandchildren
The Queen watches a fireworks display on her 80th birthday with four of her grandchildren – Prince William, Peter Phillips, Zara Phillips and Prince Harry (John Stillwell/PA)

The Queen adopted a no-nonsense attitude with her grandchildren.

William has described how he and his cousin Peter got an “almighty bollocking” from the Queen after their antics with a quad bike at Balmoral.

He said: “We were chasing Zara around, who was on a go-cart, and Peter and I managed to herd Zara into a lamppost and the lamppost came down and nearly squashed her.

“I remember my grandmother being the first person out at Balmoral running across the lawn in her kilt (she) came charging over and gave us the most almighty bollocking, and that sort of stuck in my mind from that moment on.”

In a 1992 BBC documentary, the Queen was seen telling Eugenie “Ow – that’s my foot you’re standing on”, when the two-year-old trod on her shoe as the Queen led her grandchildren out on their ponies at Balmoral.

When William became boisterous and prone to tantrums as a young child, the Queen was not amused and is said to have told the Prince and Princess of Wales that William’s behaviour had to stop.

Duke of Cambridge
The Queen urged the Waleses to deal with William’s behaviour as a youngster (PA)

Eugenie has described the Queen as “invincible” when supported by her late husband the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Queen’s grandchildren produced a large gaggle of great-grandchildren for the monarch.

They are Savannah and Isla Phillips, Prince George of Cambridge – a future king, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis of Cambridge, Mia, Lena and Lucas Tindall, Harry’s children Archie and Lili Mountbatten-Windsor, Eugenie’s son August Brooksbank, and Beatrice’s daughter Sienna Mapelli Mozzi.

When the Queen met great-grandson George soon after he was born in 2013, it was the first time in almost 120 years that a reigning monarch had met a future king three generations ahead.

William described her as a “wonderful great-grandmother” to his children and a “role model for the rest of their lives”.

The Cambridge children called their great-grandmother Gan-Gan.

She would always leave a small gift in their room whenever they came to stay.

Lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic meant the Queen was separated from her wider family for many months.

A touching family photo of the Queen and Philip surrounded by seven of their great-grandchildren at Balmoral was shared in 2021 following the duke’s death.

In 2016, the Queen was pictured by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz with five of her great-grandchildren and her two youngest grandchildren.

The Queen sat with a young Princess Charlotte on her lap, and Mia Tindall, then two, was proudly holding the Queen’s famous black handbag.