Queen Elizabeth Had a Cutting, Direct Way of Letting Staff Know They Were Wrong or “Out of Favor”

One did not want to awaken Her late Majesty’s disapproval or displeasure.

Queen Elizabeth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are dozens of reasons why one wouldn’t want to disappoint Queen Elizabeth, especially if she was your employer—and likely near the top of that list for all Palace employees was fear of the brutal way Her late Majesty let staff know they were wrong or out of favor.

We all know the public-facing Queen; behind closed doors, she had what The Mirror calls a “wicked sense of humor and a quick wit” but, when she was displeased, she had a stare that “would fix you for what felt like an eternity.” This look was a clear sign of her disapproval, and royal expert Katie Nicholl revealed the impact of the Queen’s stare in her book The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown

Queen Elizabeth in blue at a royal wedding

Queen Elizabeth was normally jovial, but staff saw signs of her disapproval at times

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“While the Queen rarely expresses displeasure, aides who have worked closely with her refer to ‘the stare,’” Nicholl writes. “According to one former member of the Household: ‘You’d know if you were out of favor or if the Queen didn’t like something because of what we called the stare, which was a long and withering look from Her Majesty delivered in total silence and that would fix you for what felt like an eternity.’”

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton told Graham Norton of a time where he—at least for a brief moment—fell out of favor with the late Queen. Hamilton was invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace in 2009 and recalled of the occasion “I got invited to lunch and was sitting next to the Queen,” he said. “I was excited and started to talk to her, but she said, pointing to my left, ‘No, you speak that way first, and I’ll speak this way, and then I’ll come back to you.’”

Queen Elizabeth

Aides recalled Her late Majesty's infamous stare of displeasure, which felt as though it lasted for an eternity

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hamilton said this encounter didn’t spoil the mood, and when the Queen engaged in conversation with him, he said of the experience “She is a sweet woman and we talked about how she spends her weekends, houses, and music. She is really cool.”

Queen Elizabeth in 2022

More than her admonishment, the Queen was known for her sense of humor and quick wit

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Really cool” or some derivative thereof is a common refrain from those who met Her late Majesty. Her sense of humor comes up over and over again in recollections of her, including a group of American tourists that famously once approached the Queen as she was out walking near her Balmoral estate in Scotland. They didn’t recognize the “unassuming woman in a headscarf,” The Mirror recalls, and “asked if she lived nearby.”

“She answered quite noncommittally that yes, she had a house quite close by,” said writer Karen Dolby, recounting a talk given by Richard Griffin, the Queen’s former protection officer. “They asked if she’d ever met the Queen, and without missing a beat she replied ‘No,’ but pointed at Richard Griffin and said, ‘But he has.’ And then they walked on, none the wiser. I think her sense of irony and lightness of touch reflected her humor very obviously.”

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.