Tabloids turn tables on Queen Mother

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The Independent Online
SHE IS 99 this year and a national treasure. But no longer is the Queen Mother immune from the criticisms levelled at the rest of her wayward family.

In recent days, there have been rare stern words about the most popular member of the Royal Family from sections of the British media that can normally be relied upon for unstinting support.

It is not the Queen Mother's fondness for a stiff gin or a flutter on the horses that has prompted the volte-face in the tabloid press; nobody minds those endearingly human foibles. It is the revelation that she is, to put it mildly, a hopeless spendthrift.

The Queen Mother is unable to live on her annual income from the Civil List of pounds 643,000. Indeed, she has reportedly run up an overdraft of pounds 4m at Coutts, the royal bank.

This profligacy prompted Richard Littlejohn, a columnist with The Sun newspaper, to declare on Tuesday that she was "spending money like it's going out of fashion".

The size of her overdraft was "going it a bit, even for a pensioner with a gold card and an account at William Hill", said Mr Littlejohn.

It is not the tone of such criticism, but the very fact of it that is startling.

This sprightly old lady is the one royal usually regarded as unassailable.

As Judy Wade, the royal correspondent for Hello! magazine, put it yesterday: "The Queen Mother is above reproach. You don't attack her."

The one exception - until now - was in the mid-Eighties, when it emerged that she had never visited two of her relatives who were incarcerated in mental institutions.

What triggered this week's outbursts were reports of the lavish lifestyle that is said to be behind the infamous overdraft.

Much of the money goes on wages. The Queen Mother employs 50 staff at Clarence House, her central London home, and is accompanied by a footman, two maids, two chauffeurs and a Metropolitan Police detective whenever she travels.

She is said to entertain in a manner that makes other royal households seem like boarding houses, and she also enjoys dining out at leading London restaurants, including the Connaught and the Ritz.

The Queen Mother owns 10 racehorses and her four homes - Clarence House, Birkhall on the Balmoral estate, the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park and the Castle of Mey in Scotland - are filled with fine furniture and antiques.

In yesterday's Daily Mail, the columnist Lynda Lee-Potter condemned what she called the Queen Mother's "grandiose, sybaritic existence" and suggested that she clear the overdraft by selling off some of her valuables. "Other old ladies have to sell their engagement rings, their few bits of jewellery and, in some cases, their houses to pay for their nursing home fees," she said.

According to one report, the Queen recently urged her mother to be a little more frugal. "But I am making economies," replied the Queen Mother, who was staying at the Castle of Mey at the time. "Just look. I haven't replaced the carpets."

As if the press onslaught wasnot enough of a shock for the Queen Mother, there was more bad news for her yesterday. She was forced to watch as her fancied horse, Easter Ross, fell at the second fence at the Cheltenham Festival.