Balmoral and its secrets
Buckingham Palace recently confirmed that Queen Elizabeth is about to move. After passing the lockdown in Windsor Castle, the sovereign and Prince Philip will move to Balmoral, like every year, for the summer holidays, although this year things will be a little different, there is no doubt. For example, the Highland Games, which are held annually, have been canceled due to the pandemic.
But if some things change at Balmoral, others remain unchanged. Since it was bought by Prince Albert for his wife, Queen Victoria, in 1852, the neo-Gothic castle has been handed down from generation to generation within the royal family. And while Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle belong to the Crown, or the institution of the British monarchy, Balmoral is instead private property. The Windsors will take possession of it even if they no longer reign, and will not be obliged to use it for ceremonies or official events.
And so it is the place where royalty can finally relax. And if the news from Balmoral is few and sporadic, there are however a series of interesting news and curiosities regarding the 160-year history of the castle. Here are some amusing anecdotes about Balmoral, the Queen’s great Scottish residence.
In 2003 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Queen Elizabeth in Balmoral. The sovereign asked the Saudi royal if he would like to tour the property. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the country’s British ambassador at the time, recalls the following exchange in his memoirs: “Pushed by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, Abdullah, hesitantly at first, agreed. Royal Land Rovers were deployed in front of the castle. The King, as indicated, sat in the front seat of the Land Rover, and his interpreter in the one behind him ”he writes. “To her surprise, the Queen got into the driver’s seat, started the engine and left.”
Abdullah was said to have been in shock. After all, women were not allowed to drive at the time in Saudi Arabia. It’s hard not to think that it was a feminist move by the Queen who, in the Second World War, had worked as a mechanic and had driven a truck.
Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, visited the Queen in Balmoral. He described his travels as “engaging, surreal and totally scary”. In particular, he recalls the drinks that tasted of “rocket fuel” and a barbecue where Prince Philip was in charge of the grill. “If you think I’m kidding, here, I’m not kidding at all. They put on rubber gloves, put their hands in the water. The queen asks if you are finished eating, piles up the dirty dishes and goes to wash them in the sink, “she writes in her autobiography.
And always on the subject of dishwashing gloves, know that they could be a gift from another politician. In Elizabeth: The Woman and Queen, Graham Turner wrote that Margaret Thatcher had given the Queen a pair of rubber gloves after seeing her washing dishes in Balmoral without wearing them.
The Balmoral Ballroom is said to have a little problem with… bats. In very remote times, it seems that the Queen herself has tried to catch them with a net. Today, he has his staff do it, shouting words of encouragement.
After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Queen Victoria entered into confidence with Balmoral’s groom, John Brown. There were many gossip, especially when the two went together to a small house inside the extensive property. Did something forbidden ever happen? Nobody knows, which was why their particular relationship became the subject of the award-winning film Mrs. Brown – My queen.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles spent part of their honeymoon in Balmoral. And, well, it does not seem to have gone very well: Diana is said to have been frustrated because her new husband spent too much time painting, and it seems that he destroyed one of his watercolors.
At certain times of the year, the Balmoral grounds are open to the public. And once there was a chance encounter: while she was walking, Elisabetta, all dressed in tweed, was stopped by a group of American tourists, who began to talk to her. It soon became clear that they had no idea who he was. “Have you ever met the Queen”? They asked. “I don’t,” she said, and then, pointing to her bodyguard, she added. “But he does”.