The Queen Mother

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Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

We celebrate one of the UK's most prolific tipplers, the Queen Mother.

So who was the Queen Mother?
Like Princess Diana in the last generation and Kate Middleton in this one, the Queen Mother's arrival on the royal scene was touted as a breath of fresh (and commoner) air. Which, given she grew up in a Scottish castle, descended from a line of Scottish kings, was perhaps a bit of a stretch, though at least she wasn't German.

A party creature during the Jazz Age, her life changed irreparably when Edward VIII abdicated and her husband became king. Fond of racing, fishing, Scottish reels and gin, she was a witty conversationalist with a ready smile, and a compulsive spender who ran up a £7million overdraft at Coutts and once bounced a £4million cheque.

During the war she had a Norman Hartnell gown custom-made for wearing in the Palace air raid shelter; in later life she had a loudspeaker system installed in Clarence House so she could follow the racing results in real time.

Where did she drink?
The Queen Mother favoured private parties, exclusive hotels and grand houses, castles and palaces. She joined Noel Coward and his partner at their Jamaican villa, FireFly, on several occasions.

While her favourite hotel was the Goring, she also appreciated the Ritz, the Savoy and Claridge's. The Savoy's Joe Gilmore created the Savoy Royale, a blend of strawberries, peach, sugar and champagne in her honour; Peter Dorelli recalls serving her gin and Dubonnet (2:1) in the mornings and a Dry Martini in the evening.

What did she drink?
During the 1930s, she was patron of the Windsor Wets' Club, a posh drinking society whose motto was "Aqua vitae non aqua pura" ("Spirits, not water"), and favoured Beefeater gin.

Even the most respectful sources recall a truly impressive capacity for booze: her fondness for vintage pink champagne made her Veuve Clicquot's largest private client. The diarist and novelist Nancy Mitford wrote of a lunch party that "she had two Dry Martinis before, wine during and port after, and everyone was exhausted trying to keep up with the consumption".

Any famous drinking buddies?
Besides royalty, aristocracy and politicans of the day, the Queen Mother retained a surprising circle of drinking buddies. Nöel Coward was a dear friend; the socialist poet Ted Hughes became a fervent admirer in later life; the posh Mitford sisters were buddies, and she knew the writer Virginia Woolf and her circle of artists and literati.

How did drink change her life?
Given the Queen Mother lived to 101, it is hard to say that alcohol enfeebled her - indeed, like Winston Churchill, with whom she shared a drink or two, one could say that she took more out of alcohol than alcohol took out of her. It contributed, no doubt, to her £7million overdraft - no fewer than 11 booze businesses boasted her royal warrant - and, one imagines, powered that famous, if rather hazy smile.

Any drinking stories?
After her daughter, the Queen, asked for more wine with lunch, the Queen Mother asked, "Is that wise, my dear? You know you have to reign all afternoon." On one occasion, when leaving the Royal Flight, a hatbox an aide was carrying flew open to reveal a bottle of gin.

She hosted lunch parties in the garden at her London palace, Clarence House, which routinely ended with guests passed out under the trees after failing to match her heroic consumption. She herself was, it appears, immune.

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