Nelson Mandela called the Queen by her first name and had no idea who Brad Pitt was

The former South African President's personal assistant writes openly about working for him in her memoir Good Morning, Mr Mandela

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The Independent Online

Nelson Mandela enjoyed a “warm friendship” with the Queen, flouting royal custom and addressing her by her first name.

The South African leader, who died last year, was even comfortable enough to comment on Elizabeth II’s weight, according to his former personal assistant Zelda la Grange.

In an extract from her memoir Good Morning, Mr Mandela, published in The Sunday Times Magazine, Ms Grange details her relationship with Madiba as she travelled the world by his side.

She writes: “On a visit to Britain, I was struck by the warm friendship between Madiba and the Queen. ‘Oh Elizabeth,’ he would say when he greeted her, and she would respond: ‘’Hello, Nelson.’

“I think he was one of the very few people who called her by her first name and she seemed to be amused by it.”

And on another occasion he said rather candidly: “Oh, Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight.”


Ms Grange also records how Mandela was out of touch with celebrity. Upon meeting Brad Pitt, he asked the high-profile actor what it was he did. Pitt simply replied: “I try acting for a living”.

However, despite her close relationship with the then-President, Ms Grange admits that she had been brought up to view him as a “terrorist”.

Having come from “a typical Afrikaner middle-class family” whose “respect for authority superseded common sense”, Ms Grange admits to being “a racist by the times I was 13” and to voting "No" to ending apartheid.

But she came under Mandela’s wing while working as a government clerk in Pretoria and taking on a typist’s role under the new President. Upon meeting him for the first time she was overcome by “a feeling of guilt”.

“How do you correct all of that prejudice in five minutes,” she writes,

“Suddenly, I wanted to apologise."

When Mandela lay on his deathbed, Ms Grange visited him as much as she could – and when his time came she grieved deeply for the man she had once feared.

“My heart shattered. A physical pain I cannot describe to anyone, but I am sure has been felt by so many people.

“I so badly wanted to walk to Mandela to give him hug but I couldn’t. […] Lifeless. Dead. Cold. Khulu was gone.”