“I remember conversations I had with my private secretary, and he had with the Queen’s private secretary, and I had with the Queen’s private secretary, not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional, but just raising an eyebrow – even, you know, a quarter of an inch, that might make a difference.” (David Cameron, revealing how he suggested how the Queen could influence the 2014 Scottish independence referendum).
He was back.
The Queen sat expressionlessly behind her desk as her Private Secretary opened the door to admit David Cameron.
Her heart sank, though her face gave no trace of this. She had trained it not to.
In the earliest days of her reign, in the world of grainy black-and-white TV, things had been easier. In 1968, for example, she had sat in her carriage the whole way around the track at Ascot looking furious, because four-year old Prince Edward had that morning written in crayon on the Throne Room wall. Nobody had noticed.
Then colour TV had been invented, and the zoom-in lens, and everything had changed.
Her dress code, to begin with. She now found that if she wore blue she was accused of supporting the Tories, and of supporting Labour if she wore red. She had taken instead to wearing shades like taupe, fawn and vanilla, and would then read that she looked washed out and tired.
Then analysts – Royal watchers, they were called, as if that was an actual job – were employed to interpret her expressions, as if they were trying to determine whether or not Timmy had fallen down a well. She countered that by developing a look that she liked to call her Resting Resting Face, and that worked for a while.
So the media started to interpret her lack of expression, and that was worse, because they had effectively a blank canvas to work with. The same look, often the same photograph, would be used as proof that she liked this person, disliked that country, disapproved of that Royal romantic match.
And she could say nothing. Her Private Secretary would issue the standard response that Her Majesty does not comment, etc, etc,. While her husband got to have some fun – to try Guinness, to insult random strangers, to crash a Rolls Royce into a tree – she remained bound to her impartial duty.
Which at the moment was to listen to her Prime Minister, and to wonder what he was up to now. The previous year he had held a referendum in which Scotland had narrowly voted to remain in the United Kingdom, and during which, when things looked to be going the other way, he had asked her for help, by the “raising of an eyebrow”.
Raising an eyebrow? That would bordering on hysterics for the Queen. He might as well have asked her to get a microphone and sing Don’t Leave Me This Way from the Palace balcony.
Now, it transpired, he wanted to hold another referendum. The Queen’s eyebrows remained unraised, her lips unpursed, her brow unfrowning as Cameron explained that it would be about leaving the EU, but that he didn’t really want to, that it would all be ok, that the people didn’t want to either.
Then why hold it, said a voice in the Queen’s head. Nothing at all, said the look on the Queen’s face.
He gave her the papers to sign, and she signed, having no option.
And people think I rule this country, she sighed to herself.
He was back. Again.
Thirteen months had passed, during which the Queen had become Britain’s longest serving monarch, had celebrated her ninetieth birthday and had turned down a huge amount of money to slip the words ‘because you’re worth it’ into her Christmas Message. Now she regarded David Cameron impassively as he stood sheepishly in front of her.
“Er, well, the thing is,” said Cameron, “we lost. So, well, er, we’re going to leave the EU. Which, well, when you think about it, is probably ok, I mean, we won’t be run by the Germans anymore, ha, h-” – too late he remembered the Queen’s ancestry – “er, I mean, we won’t be run by the Maltese and the Finns anymore. And I’m sure it will all go smoothly, and it won’t divide the nation, and -”
The Queen punched him in the nose.
Had any analysts been watching, they might have described his expression as “stunned”.
“Do I make myself clear?” asked the Queen icily.
“Yes, your Majesty,” said Cameron. “I will resign today.”
“You do that,” said the Queen. “Make up some guff about not wanting to lead the country out of Europe.”
Cameron walked from the room, dabbing at his nose. The Queen turned to the only witness present. He had worked for her for many years, and could read the expression in her lack of expression.
“I am your Private Secretary, Ma’am,” he said. “No-one will ever know about this.”