The Queen was apparently thrilled when a Foreign Office Minister said she “looked very good for her age with excellent legs”.
Labour former Minister and MP Denis MacShane revealed he was mortified when his compliment was made public by a Tory, Gyles Brandreth.
Deeply embarrassed and fearing a carpeting, MacShane rang the Queen’s then private secretary to apologise only to be told it “the nicest thing ever said about her by one of her ministers”.
MacShane, who served four years in the Foreign Office until 2005 including three as Europe Minister, recalls the faux pas in a new book, Must Labour Always Lose?
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Gossiping and drinking with chatty Brandreth on a flight a week after he’d met the Queen, MacShane said he revealed “my views on the shapeliness of Her Majesty’s legs”.
The then Labour Minister later kicked himself when the Conservative MP recounted the conversation.
“My heart shrunk. Talking out of school about the Queen was the worst possible crime for an FCO minister. I went into the Foreign Office and saw officials turning their faces from me in horror at what I had done,” writes MacShane.
“I knew the Queen’s private secretary as a friend and neighbour with a house in France close to where I often stayed. I called him in a panic.
‘Robin, Robin’, I stuttered but he interrupted. ‘Don’t say anything, Denis. Her Majesty says this is the nicest thing ever said about her by one of her ministers’.”
Onetime Rotherham MacShane also discloses that at a Buckingham Palace garden party the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, appeared confused about where Sheffield precisely is.
“The Prince asked a man, ‘So where do you come from?’, records MacShane.
“‘Oh, that’s in the north, isn’t it? What’s it like?’”
“As the person the Royal was talking to did not know what to say, Edward went on: ‘And what does your wife do?’ he said indicating the woman beside the man.
“‘She’s a teacher.’
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“‘In a private school’?”
MacShane concludes two friends of his overhearing the conversation were unimpressed.
“For Anna and Dominic,” he says, “it was all they needed to hear to confirm everything they’d already thought about the Royals.”