Secret life of The Queen – cheeky pranks, personal chocolates and wedding panic

Few people get to see what The Queen gets up to behind closed doors.

But there aren’t many people better placed to divulge some of her secrets than her second cousin and former lady-in-waiting, Lady Pamela Hicks.

As well as being related to Her Majesty, Lady Pamela is the daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, great great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and cousin to Prince Philip.

Lady Pamela, who has known The Queen her entire life, was a bridesmaid at her wedding, travelled the world with her and they have both supported each other through their darkest hours.

Speaking for the first time on TV about growing up with The Queen alongside daughter India, who was a bridesmaid at Princes Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding, Lady Pamela divulges secrets from her never before seen diaries about life in the royal household in ITV documentary My Years With The Queen.

From keeping personal chocolate to panic on her wedding day, Prince Philip’s strange waving issue and being ‘boiled alive’ while on your, here is the secret life of The Queen.

Wedding panic

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, after their marriage, 1947
Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, after their marriage, 1947

Lady Pamela was around 17-years-old when she was a bridesmaid at then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to her cousin Philip in 1947.

While it appeared to be a well-run event, not everything went to plan as there was chaos behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace.

There was panic when Princess Elizabeth couldn’t find the pearls she wanted to wear and her private secretary dashed across London to get them for her.

Then at last moment couldn’t find Elizabeth’s bouquet so the bridesmaid had to go on ahead.

Talking about the wedding and being on the balcony at Buckingham Palace afterwards, Lady Pamela says: “I was on cloud nine really. Tremendous excitement.

“It’s an extraordinary sight. There was an enormous crowd. They were a star couple.

“They were very much in love. I would say she was very much in love and he grew in love.”

The newlyweds had their honeymoon night at Lady Pamela’s family home.

History would repeat itself for the younger generation as Lady Pamela’s daughter India was a bridesmaid at Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding in 1981.

Unsuitable Philip

The Queen and Prince Philip, pictured at Windsor Castle last year
The Queen and Prince Philip, pictured at Windsor Castle last year

In the ITV documentary, Lady Pamela tells the story of how her cousin, Prince Philip, came to stay with them in England.

She explains how her father, Lord Mountbatten, took Philip under his wing and she believes he thought of him as a son.

It was at Lady Pamela’s sister’s wedding where signs of romance between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were spotted.

Looking back at footage, you can see Prince Philip taking Princess Elizabeth’s fur for her as she enters the church, which Lady Pamela says was an unusual gesture.

When the romance went public Lord Mountbatten was “so enthusiastic”, but Prince Philip actually warned him to back off.

“I thought it was ideal. A good looking Prince and a very pretty Princess,” admits Lady Pamela.

Although she confesses a “penniless Greek Prince” was not the husband her family may have had in mind as he was “very unsuitable”.

Lady Pamela describes her cousin Philip as being “unexpectedly kind and thoughtful” and much gentler and more considerate than one would think.

Although admitting he is fun to be around and a tease, Lady Pamela adds: “I’m always serious near Prince Philip. He’s so alarming.”

Carrying personal chocolates

When The Queen went to stay with anyone she would always bring a box of chocolates for the hostess.

But she would also bring a personal box for herself that she didn’t want to share with the rest of her family.

“She does have her own box of chocolates and has learnt to keep it in her room otherwise she says the family are so greedy they all eat them before she can. Not our family her family,” says Lady Pamela.

There was also an incident of chocolate theft after Lady Pamela had returned from India with a pet mongoose called Nayola.

“One evening we were waiting for her to come down to dinner and it was very unusual for The Queen that she was four or five minutes late,” she explains.

“She said to me, ‘I don’t mind Nayola coming into my room, in fact I quite enjoy it. I don’t mind Nayola opening my box of chocolate but does he always have to take a bite out of every one?’.”

Giving up name

Lady Pamela Hicks with her daughter India Hicks
Lady Pamela Hicks with her daughter India Hicks

When Princess Elizabeth’s father first asked her to go on tour for him, she chose Lady Pamela to go with her as a lady-in-waiting.

Lady Pamela says it was at that moment she had to stop calling her childhood friend Lilibet.

She explains “In England, before we left, I was at a reception and Queen Mary was there and she sent for me across the room and she said, “I hear, my dear, that Lilibet’s taking you on tour with her, you will be in attendance. Now when you’re in attendance, you don’t call her Lilibet, you call her Ma’am.’”

Pamela very struck by how frail King George VI looked as he waved them off at the airport.

While they were in Kenya, they they discovered the sad news that King George had died and that Princess Elizabeth was now The Queen.

Revealing how The Queen slept in a treehouse, Lady Pamela says: “She climbed up that ladder as a princess and then in the morning, she came down the ladder as a queen.”

She watched as Philip went over to tell The Queen that her father had died and noticed how she stopped walking and slumped.

It was at this point that Lady Pamela realised she would have to change her behaviour towards her friend.

“I give her a hug thinking about her father who she adored had just died,” she explains

“Then I think ‘oh my god she’s Queen’ so I drop into a deep curtsey. She said, ‘I’m so sorry it means we’ve all go to go back to England’.”

Queen’s coronation

The Queen and Prince Philip on her coronation in June 1953
The Queen and Prince Philip on her coronation in June 1953

Pamela was on of the 8,000 guests from around the world at the Queen’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in June 1953.

Looking back at a photo of herself alongside the new Queen and her father Lord Mountbatten, Lady Pamela explains that she wasn’t allowed to wear robes like the others and jokingly refers to herself as a “poor neglected little waif”.

Remembering the Coronation, she says: “The sunlight was shining directly on her and she looked so frail, just as one very young woman.

“I must say, seeing her, this young woman of 27, utterly alone, I wondered how she’ll have the strength to undertake this duty all her life. I think one knew she would because there’s such inner strength there.”

Being ‘boiled alive’

The Queen with The Duke of Edinburgh while in Ceylon in 1954
The Queen with The Duke of Edinburgh while in Ceylon in 1954

After the coronation the Queen and Prince Philip embarked on their first tour since The Coronation, a six month trip to the Caribbean, Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe, Lady Pamela was once again in attendance.

Rather than being a professional lady in waiting, Lady Pamela was much more of a friend ready to have a “giggle” with The Queen.

Lady Pamela spent all her time with The Queen and wore a tiara so valuable that it could not be insured – admitting someone whose family did not own one would not be able to become a lady-in-waiting.

As she looks at footage and images of her following The Queen and helping her, Lady Pamela talks about their time in Ceylon, Sri Lanka and how The Queen almost ‘roasted’ it was so unbearably hot.

“Lilabet almost boiled alive. So despite her protests I held the parasol over her,” she explains.

The Queen’s dress had its own cabin which was much bigger than Lady Pamela’s, who admits she was “very jealous”.

Practical jokes

The Queen was always up for a laugh
The Queen was always up for a laugh

While on tour in Australia they had a punishing schedule and it was hard for the Queen to get away from royal watchers even on her days off.

“I sat with Lillibet under a tree, listening to her holding forth about being marooned on a desert island and left there to be eaten from creepy crawly things,” she read from a journal entry detailing the Australian tour.

Some tourists came along looking for The Queen but failed to recognise her, so she showed off her cheeky side.

Lady Pamela explains: “But she cheered up considerably when a boatload of trippers appeared shouting whether we had seen The Queen, where is she?

“Lillibet in slacks, tore down to the beach, pointed to the other side of the island and yelled, ‘she went that-a-way’ and jumped up and down with joy as the boat disappeared around the corner.”

Waving issues

Prince Philip started waving in his sleep
Prince Philip started waving in his sleep

As consort, Prince Philip had to master the very important skill of a perfect royal wave.

While on tour, the royal couple would be driven around in processions waving to thousands of people lining the streets.

Writing in her diaries, Lady Pamela said they had to keep waving all day long but it did have one benefit as The Queen “developed tremendous muscles in her ams”.

But it was much more of a struggle for Prince Philip, who developed a strange issue in his sleep.

Lady Pamela continues: “Sitting still in a car being yelled at and having to wave is the part of the tour Philip really loathes.

“He always woke up with a very cold hand and wondered why. And then he realised that in his sleep it’s waving.”

Hiding emotions

Left to right; Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Silver Jubilee procession.
Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Silver Jubilee procession

The Queen was incredibly close to Lord Mountbatten – seeing him not only as a member of the extended family but a friend and close confident.

Affectionally known as ‘Dickie’, he was Prince Philip’s uncle, the Queen’s second cousin once removed and Prince Charles called him the grandfather he never had.

But tragedy struck in August 1979 when Lord Mountbatten and three others were killed by a bomb whilst on his fishing boat on a family holiday in Ireland.

Mountbatten’s daughter Lady Pamela had decided to stay at the castle with her children, who heard the explosion through an open window and could see bits of green wood scattered across the sea.

While she had always been there for the Queen, the roles were reversed when Lady Pamela’s father died.

The Queen asked what she could do to help in the immediate aftermath and sent a helicopter to pick up the children as the family feared there could be more danger.

After the funeral, the Queen asked to see Lady Pamela but didn’t outwardly express her emotions.

“She asked me to tell her exactly what had happened, and then, silence,” says Lade Pamela.

“The Queen’s emotions are all inside, always. She is very strong. Princess Margaret very explosive but the Queen is not like that at all.”

Loyal friend

India Hicks with her mother Lady Pamela Hicks compare their respective bridesmaids dresses
India Hicks with her mother Lady Pamela Hicks compare their respective bridesmaids dresses

Lady Pamela also looks back at footage of The Queen watching her in a horse-race and photographs of the pair dancing together.

She describes the Queen as “tremendously loyal and utterly selfless” while praising her sense of duty.

“To have known the Queen is to admire her above everybody else. She has always been accepting of whatever she’s supposed to be doing,” says Lady Pamela.

“She deals with situations superbly and yet she’s tremendously loyal and utterly selfless. The Queen’s life has entirely been dictated by her sense of duty.

“It’s been an enormous privilege watching her work and having fun with her off duty. She’s an amazing person and remained like that throughout her life.”

*My Years With The Queen airs tonight on ITV at 9pm

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