Late Newspaper Diarist Kenneth Rose’s Private Journals Reveal Queen Elizabeth II Sent a Six-page Letter on the Death of a Beloved Corgi and Voiced What She Really Thought of Margaret Thatcher


Veteran newspaper diarist Kenneth Rose kept many of his most sensational stories for his private journals — now published following his death in 2014.

On Saturday we told how he witnessed Diana Spencer’s troubled relationship with Prince Charles.

Here, he reveals more of the Royal Family’s intriguing secrets . . .

December 2, 1984

Brigadier Geoffrey Hardy-Roberts, Master of the Royal Household from 1967 to 1973, used to worry at the difficulty of keeping food hot when served on gold plate.

But the Queen told him: ‘People come here not to eat hot food, but to eat off gold plate.’

May 4, 1986

Edward Ford [Extra Equerry to the Queen, and her former assistant private secretary] tells me that he used to suggest to the Queen that she might publicly heal the breach with the Windsors [Edward and Wallis] by inviting them for a day or two of Ascot races, where they would be swallowed up among the other guests. But the Queen said no.

Interior decorator Pamela Hicks claimed that she sometimes writes to the Queen to tell her things of supposed interest. ‘The only time she has ever replied was when I sent my sympathy after one of her dogs had been killed by a Clarence House corgi. She then wrote six pages’

May 27, 1986

I hear that the Queen found she had an unexpectedly free evening recently and that Philip was away.

So, on the spur of the moment, she decided to give a little dinner party.

‘And wasn’t I lucky?’ she said. ‘I asked about a dozen people at 24 hours’ notice, and by great good fortune they were all free to come!’

November 21, 1988

[Historian] Steven Runciman tells me that when it was decided that Prince Charles should go to Gordonstoun, Princess Marina (later the Duchess of Kent) said to Prince Philip: ‘How like you to send him to the only German school in Britain.’

The Queen Mother, overhearing this, said to Princess Marina: ‘I have always wanted to say that, but didn’t dare.’

Steven adds that it was Princess Marina, not Mountbatten, who was the marriage broker between the Queen and Prince Philip.

Steven Runciman tells me that when it was decided that Prince Charles should go to Gordonstoun, Princess Marina (later the Duchess of Kent) said to Prince Philip: ‘How like you to send him to the only German school in Britain’

September 18, 1990

[Former Conservative Prime Minister] Ted Heath tells me that when [composer] William Walton’s arrangement of the National Anthem was played before the first production of Britten’s Gloriana at Covent Garden in 1953, the Queen turned to Prince Philip in the Royal Box and said: ‘Are they allowed to do this to it?’ Princess Margaret passed this on to Walton, who was dejected.

September 21, 1991

Duncan Davidson [founder of housebuilders Persimmon] tells me that he is still sometimes teased for having been a page at the Coronation in 1953. ‘Did you not faint at a rehearsal?’ someone asked him recently.

He says: ‘Yes — one of the bishops made an indecent suggestion to me.’

February 25, 1992

Prince Eddie [the Duke of Kent] tells me that when Philip Hay was about to become Private Secretary to Princess Marina in 1948, he was asked to see Tommy Lascelles [private secretary to George VI and to Elizabeth II] at the Palace.

Walking down a passage, they passed Anthony Blunt [Surveyor of the King’s Pictures]. When Blunt was out of earshot, Tommy said to Philip: ‘That man is a Soviet spy, you know.’ [Blunt — knighted in 1956 — wasn’t unmasked as a spy by MI5 until 1963. The Queen was informed the following year.

Granted immunity in return for a full confession, he continued as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures until 1973. When Mrs Thatcher exposed his treachery six years later to the House of Commons, he was stripped of his knighthood.]

Walking down a passage, the Queen’s Private Secretary Tommy Lascelles and Philip Hay passed Anthony Blunt [Surveyor of the King’s Pictures]. When Blunt was out of earshot, Tommy said to Philip: ‘That man is a Soviet spy, you know’

July 27, 1992

Former Prime Ministers and their spouses give a dinner for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Spencer House. There is a large reception beforehand for others, to which I am invited. I speak to both the Queen and the Duke, who talk freely.

The Queen tells me she was much amused by the attempt of Winston Churchill during the war to call a dreadnought HMS Oliver Cromwell. [Former Labour Prime Minister] Jim Callaghan says: ‘I must confess I should have done the same.’

I ask the Queen whether she still has to approve the names of all the new warships. ‘Oh yes,’ she tells me, ‘and New Zealand ships, too. That is not so easy, as they often have Aboriginal names.’

Most fascinatingly of all, the Queen tells me of her diary, which she keeps without fail. ‘And how much do you write, Ma’am?’ I ask, not adding, ‘We diarists!’ She replies: ‘About so much,’ spreading out her hand, from thumb to little finger, i.e. about six inches. ‘But I have no time to record conversations, only events.’ Nor, she says, does she dictate, finding it inhibiting.

May 15, 1993

I have a talk with Peter Wilmot-Sitwell [chairman of SG Warburg] about the Royal Family. We are agreed that the Queen is good with ministers, ambassadors and representatives of the Commonwealth, but not with her children or indeed many other people.

June 3, 1995

I stay for the weekend with [interior decorator] David and Pamela Hicks. Pammy says that she sometimes writes to the Queen to tell her things of supposed interest.

‘The only time she has ever replied was when I sent my sympathy after one of her dogs had been killed by a Clarence House corgi. She then wrote six pages.’

March 21, 1997

Prince Charles tells me that the head of Wimbledon asked whether he thought the Queen would come to open a new court.

‘I doubt it,’ Prince Philip replied, ‘unless there are dogs and horses.’

June 12, 1998

Long talk with Edward Ford [Extra Equerry to the Queen, and her former assistant private secretary] at dinner. He says Anthony Blunt should undoubtedly have been sacked from the Royal Household when his treason was first known.

June 23, 1999

To Rhodes House in Oxford for the Vice-Chancellor’s lunch. I have the good fortune to sit next to Reg Carr, Librarian of the Bodleian.

When Reg showed the Queen round a Bodleian exhibition in Univ., the quad was full of cheering undergraduates. ‘I suppose they are cheering you,’ she remarked.

May 15, 2000

Lunch with Edward Ford. We discuss whether the Queen was informed of Anthony Blunt’s treason when he confessed to MI5 in 1964 (though it was not made public till 1979). I am certain that she was, on the instructions of the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke. Roy Jenkins confirms this in his memoirs.

October 5, 2000

Prue Penn [the Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting] tells me that the Queen’s choice as Master of the Queen’s Music in 1975 was Benjamin Britten, but he was too ill and turned it down.

She then thought of William Walton, but realised this would make Britten jealous.

So the Queen appointed the obviously inferior [Australian composer] Malcolm Williamson. At least it pleased the Australians.

February 12, 2001

I ask Oliver Millar [Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures 1972–88] whether he has ever heard the story about Tommy Lascelles catching sight of Anthony Blunt in the passage at Buckingham Palace and saying to Philip Hay: ‘That’s our Russian spy.’

Oliver says that [Master of the Royal Household] Mark Milbank made exactly the same remark to him when Oliver arrived at the Palace as Deputy Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.

June 19, 2001

Dine at Eton. I hear an amusing story about Martin Charteris as Provost. When Prince Philip was coming on a visit, Martin would give boys lessons on how to answer back his rudeness.

September 25, 2006

I see the film The Queen, with Helen Mirren utterly brilliant in the title role. It is the Queen one is watching, in every nuance.

December 7, 2007

Prince Eddie, [the Duke of Kent] describes how the Queen plans the annual family Christmas lunch down to the last detail. The grown-ups are in one big room, the children in another. Towards the end of lunch, the doors are flung open and in rushes the horde.

January 29, 2009

I remember Martin Gilliat [the Queen Mother’s private secretary] telling me that the Queen Mother did not like to hear Anthony Blunt disparaged even after he had been exposed by Mrs Thatcher as a Soviet spy.

Thatcher: she stays too long and talks too much

June 25, 1980

Lunch at the Beefsteak [London men-only club], Edward Ford [Extra Equerry to the Queen, and her former assistant private secretary] tells the story of Winston [Churchill] at Balmoral in the early 1950s. He was awaiting the result of a nuclear test on a new bomb, and said to the Queen: ‘By this time tomorrow, we shall know if it is a pop or a plop.’

February 26, 1981

Martin Charteris [the Queen’s private secretary, later Provost of Eton] to lunch at Claridge’s. [He says] the Queen felt strongly about [former Labour Prime Minister] Harold Wilson’s resignation Honours List, but felt she could not remonstrate with him, much less turn it down.

Instead, Wilson was merely asked whether he really wanted to recommend so many more names than his predecessors had done; and whether they were the names which on reflection he would still wish to put forward. To both questions he replied yes, and there the Queen felt that her right to interfere had ended.

June 5, 1981

[Former Conservative Prime Minister] Ted Heath tells me of one of his visits to Windsor just after [businessman] Arnold Weinstock had won the 200th running of the Derby, so beating the Queen’s horse.

Ted said to the Queen and Prince Philip: ‘Of course, if it had been a sailing race, we should all have hung back so that the Queen could have won it.’

Prince Philip retorted: ‘Like hell you would!’

September 20, 1983

[Former Labour PM] Jim Callaghan shares my delight in the personality of the Queen Mother. At a lunch given by the Queen for heads of Common Market countries, she observed to Jim in a loud voice: ‘I am glad we are in the Common Market. You see, they have so much to learn from us.’

December 6, 1983

Lunch with [former PM] Harold Macmillan. On the Queen, he takes an affectionate but detachedly Whig view. ‘I tried to interest her in politics, but she is only interested in the personalities of politics. I still see her sometimes. She is lonely and apprehensive about the future.’

September 18, 1985

Jean Trumpington to dine. She relates how when she went to take her leave of the Queen as a Baroness-in-Waiting on being promoted to be Under-Secretary in the Department of Health and Social Security, the Queen said of the PM [Mrs Thatcher]: ‘She stays too long and talks too much. She has lived too long among men.’

May 13, 1989

Lunch with the Queen Mother. She expresses strong admiration for Mrs Thatcher’s determination to concede no sovereignty to the EEC.

June 1, 1997

To Headington for tea with [philosopher] Isaiah Berlin. We talk of relations between the Queen and her Prime Ministers.

The Queen is careful never to reveal what she thinks of each, although it is generally known that she and Margaret Thatcher had sharp disagreements on the importance of the Commonwealth. Isaiah now has an important piece of evidence.

Both the Queen and Thatcher came to a gala at Covent Garden, but sat in different parts of the house. In the interval, the Queen let it be known that she did not want to meet Mrs Thatcher — who was sent to an upper room for drinks, as was Isaiah. Thatcher then said she would like to say goodbye to the Queen, a request that was ignored.

April 1,1998

The Queen evidently has much longer audiences with Blair than those in the Thatcher and Major years.

‘My address? Field Marshal Montgomery, England’

June 17, 1980

Story about Maurice Bowra [former vice-chancellor of Oxford University]. At a wedding, when asked if he was ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom’, he replied: ‘I don’t know. I have slept with both.’

July 27, 1980

[Times editor] William Rees-Mogg tells me that his boy Jakie [Jacob Rees-Mogg, who went on to become a multi-millionaire hedge-fund owner, Conservative MP and now Leader of the House of Commons], aged 11, plays the stock market and is a very real holder of shares in GEC. He went to the annual meeting and voted against the accounts on the grounds that the dividend was not big enough.

The boy has four bank accounts. When he went to open his fourth, at Lloyds, the manager patronisingly asked him why he had chosen that particular bank. Jakie replied: ‘Because I like your picture of a horse — and you give half a per cent more interest than the others.’

He will obviously end up as an extreme revolutionary Marxist!

November 1980

[Lawyer] Arnold Goodman tells me that when he was one of Laurence Olivier’s sponsors at his introduction into the House of Lords, the actor insisted on no fewer than three dress rehearsals!

March 29, 1982

Geoffrey Warnock [Oxford vice-chancellor] tells me that so loathed was [novelist] Evelyn Waugh at Hertford that when he died, the college passed a resolution that it should not be represented at his funeral.

June 23, 1982

[Broadcaster] Robin Day comes to my summer party. He tells me, to my surprise, what a failure he thinks his life has been — ie not prime minister.

July 3, 1983

Dine with [lawyer] Arnold Goodman in Portland Place to meet [artist] Lucian Freud. He told us that when he received the insignia of the CH [Companion of Honour] from the Queen, he felt some resentment against the courtiers, who managed to be both patronising and irritating. The painter’s eye was amazed by the Queen’s complexion — ‘as if the lines had been drawn on her face’.

Apparently he is a compulsive gambler, who loses literally tens of thousands of pounds a year. Arnold pleads with him: ‘I wish that whenever you sell a picture, you would send me half to put away for you.’ But Freud does not want any money in the bank. He tells me that he lives ‘like a snake’ — one large meal a day, if that.

September 22, 1983

Lunch at the Beefsteak [London men-only club]. Bevis Hillier [art historian and author], who is writing [former poet laureate] John Betjeman’s life, tells me that not even in his cups will John Sparrow [Warden of All Souls, Oxford] part with his letters from Betjeman; probably because they shared a salacious interest in little boys’ muddy football shorts.

October 8, 1983

A drink with [former head of the diplomatic service] Denis Greenhill. Denis describes an AGM of BP, where he was a Government director. A shareholder got up to attack ‘do-gooders who are fighting to reduce the lead content in petrol’. He continued: ‘What we want are bigger dividends, not more expenses. I don’t care if the next generation does have two heads.’ Denis expected the man to be shouted down. Not at all. There was a roar of applause.

January 3, 1984

To Oxford to lunch at All Souls. Story of Lord Londonderry’s daughters, two of whom married Nazi sympathisers. Someone asked him when the third would marry. Londonderry: ‘I am saving her for the Chief Rabbi.’

January 8, 1990

Ralph Carr-Ellison [Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear] tells me that when Monty [Field Marshal Montgomery] visited St Aubyn’s prep school some years ago, one of the boys took photographs of him. He asked Monty where he should send them. Monty replied: ‘Field Marshal Montgomery, England, will do.’ Then he paused and added: ‘Better put Hampshire as well.’

March 21, 1990

Marie-Sygne Northbourne [chair of Kent Opera] tells me that the Pope [John Paul II], soon after his election, asked for a swimming pool to be built in the Vatican. He was politely told that it was too expensive. He replied: ‘Well, it will be cheaper than another Papal election.’

August 19, 1995

[Former ambassador to France] Edward Tomkins tells me that an English nanny said to one of the Rothschilds: ‘Drink up your Lafite or you will have no water.’

February 14, 1999

The art critic Brian Sewell gave a talk at St Paul’s School. Afterwards the High Master asked him what he thought of the boys. Brian replied: ‘They make pederasty an incomprehensible vice.’

August 7, 2000

I read a review by Raymond Carr [Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford] of a new biography of [historian] A.J.P. Taylor. At a celebratory dinner once, Raymond proposed his health and referred to him as ‘our great historian’.

AJPT interrupted angrily, ‘our greatest historian’ — and never spoke to Raymond again.

Deaths announced of Alec Guinness and Robin Day.

Extracted from Who Loses, Who Wins: The Journals Of Kenneth Rose, Vol. II 1979-2014, edited by D.R. Thorpe and published by Weidenfeld on November 14 at £30. © The Estate of Kenneth Rose and D.R. Thorpe 2019.

To order a copy for £24 (offer valid until November 16, 2019; P&P free), visit or call 01603 648155. 

SOURCE: Daily Mail, Kenneth Rose