When it comes to Queen Elizabeth II, “Our curiosity is never quite satiated,” says Being the Queen director Tom Jennings. For this new documentary on the 94-year-old royal, he tracked down 100-plus rare audio interviews with friends, family and staff.
No talking heads — “You’re hearing them tell the stories in first person,” he notes. (Jennings also helmed 2017’s Diana: In Her Own Words, airing before this at 7/6c.) Here are three intriguing topics.
- Wedding Jitters
Not from Elizabeth, who was just 13 when she met the future Prince Philip at Dartmouth Naval College. “I think the princess fell headlong in love with him at that moment,” says Philip’s cousin Lady Pamela Hicks, who describes the cadet as an “absolute Greek god.” But King George VI and then-queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon made her wait till she was 21 to get engaged. “What parent wouldn’t be anxious about a daughter who wants to marry the very first man she’s fallen in love with?” explains royal historian Robert Lacey. As for the groom’s nerves, a friend who attended his bachelor party before the 1947 wedding recalls, “His face was white. This man just began to realize what he was getting into.”
After the 1966 tragedy in this Welsh town, where an avalanche of mining sludge killed 28 adults and 116 children, “there was much turmoil about whether or not the Queen should visit,” Jennings says. (She didn’t want to detract from rescue efforts but came eight days later — one of the few regrets of her reign, notes Gyles Brandreth, who knows Philip and wrote a book on the couple.) Princess Margaret’s husband, Lord Snowdon, did visit right away — and explains why in a moving, never-before-heard clip.
- Diana’s Death
After the 1997 loss of the Princess of Wales, Elizabeth remained in Balmoral, Scotland, with her grandsons William and Harry. Intimates bristle at the public’s response: Lady Angela Oswald, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, says with disbelief, “She was castigated for not leaving [the boys] and coming to London to mourn in the streets with people who’d never even met the princess.” Raised to put duty first, she finally prioritized family. Notes Jennings: “Because she is so iconic, it’s easy to forget that she is a grandmother.”
Being the Queen, Monday, August 31, 9/8c, National Geographic.