Book review: A Royal Miscellany by Brian Hoey

As Prince William and Kate Middleton prepare for their wedding, interest in the royal soap opera has taken off again.

Wednesday, 1st December 2010, 6:00 am

Perfect timing then for Hoey’s entertaining and mischievous miscellany of everything you wanted to know about the Royal Family, but didn’t know who to ask.

Did the Queen Mother really give her clothes to charity, did the Queen ever pass a driving test and what does she do with all those unwanted birthday gifts?

Hoey has all the answers and more in this fascinating and revealing guide to the folks at the palace.

The Queen never did take a driving test and as for Buckingham Palace, it appears that none of the monarchs who have lived there ever actually liked the place.

Edward VII detested it, George V said it was ‘just a house’ and not ‘a home’ and George VI had to be persuaded to live there by Winston Churchill.

Whatever its pros and cons, it does house a lot of secrets, not least a rumour, never denied, of a subterranean passage that can be opened onto the Piccadilly Underground line that connects directly with Heathrow Airport for a quick escape.

One of the current Queen’s favourite daily pastimes when she visits Balmoral Castle in Scotland is catching the bats in the upper reaches of the great hall with the help of a footman and a large net attached to a pole.

On the subject of wildlife, the Queen has been given some very unusual animal gifts during overseas visits - tortoises, sloths, beavers, an elephant and, in 1961, a baby crocodile for Prince Andrew. The Queen’s private secretary kept it in his bath until it could be brought home from The Gambia.

Animals are not the only gifts the Queen receives; many authors dedicate their books to her and send them to the palace to be personally inscribed. In a custom dating back to medieval times, all are first read by the Ecclesiastical Household to ensure nothing ‘unsuitable’ is placed before royal eyes.

When it comes to Christmas, the royals like to do things differently – they exchange gifts at teatime on Christmas Eve and on Christmas night the family, dressed in their finery, play charades until midnight and nobody is permitted to go to bed until the Queen retires.

And when high-ranking royals retire from the world forever, we know now why their funeral arrangements usually run like clockwork. A meeting is held every year to update copious files which include a code name for each member of the family’s funeral. The Queen’s is ‘London Bridge’ and the Duke of Edinburgh’s is ‘Forth Bridge’.

Amongst the royals’ most valuable possessions are the Crown Jewels which, strange as it may seem, are not insured for the simple and logical reason that they are irreplaceable.

Hoey’s book, written as a handy A-Z, is a coruscating cornucopia of facts on everything from abdications and accessions to yachts and yeomen of the guard.

And there’s one thing for sure, you WILL be amused!

(JR Books, hardback, £14.99)