Monday, May 12, 2008

The Queen and I: relations with the royals

The Queen liked us - but her sister and Princess Anne didn't

Cherie Blair

While the Queen is very approachable, I can't say the same about Princess Margaret, whom I met several times at Balmoral. One evening I was at the Royal Opera House for some gala performance and was talking to her about what we'd seen, when Chris Smith came over.

“Have you met Chris Smith, our Culture Secretary, Ma'am?” I asked.

She peered at him.

“And this is his partner,” I continued.

“Partner for what?”

I took a breath. “Sex, Ma'am.”

She stalked off. She knew exactly what kind of partner I meant. She was just trying to catch me out.

At one point in that first year, Princess Anne came over and said something that included “Mrs Blair”.

“Oh. Please call me Cherie,” I said.

“I'd rather not,” she replied. “It's not the way I've been brought up.”

“What a shame,” I said.

My relationship with the Queen's only daughter went rapidly downhill and never recovered ... the reason, I think, was less our slightly awkward first meeting than her perception that it was me who was egging Tony on with the ban on foxhunting, Anne having very strong feelings about the matter. She made it very clear to me when Tony and I attended a state banquet at Windsor Castle while the Bill was going through Parliament. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, on the other hand, who also had strong views on the subject, were extremely civilised about it.

As for me and foxhunting, animals have never really been a passion of mine, so what happens to the ruddy fox completely passes me by. It's people I'm interested in.

After the Queen Mother's death in the spring, that September I asked the Queen whether she would mind if we had a picture of Leo with her, so we did. She is very good with small children, she liked Leo and Leo loved the dogs. I remember when he was about 18 months old, the Queen was showing him how to throw a biscuit to one of the corgis. She told him that now they all had to have one, so he took a handful and flung them across the room and the corgis went wild.

“Oh,” she said. “That wasn't quite what I meant.” But she wasn't remotely cross at the ensuing mayhem. By the time he was two-and-a-half he had learnt the words of God Save the Queen, and at the end of our stay he sang it to her on his own. Her Majesty was very gracious and congratulated him. All praise to Jackie, who had taken a lot of trouble over it. Leo was really the person who broke the ice at Balmoral, and once he came along the whole atmosphere changed completely.

That first visit I was on edge the whole time, thinking, Oh my God, what faux pas am I going to make next? But over the years we had got used to one another. She was clearly very fond of Tony, and the last time we went I was really sad to think that we would never go there again.

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