THE AGREEABLE WORLD OF WALLACE ARNOLD: Few know the cruel twists of fate she has endured

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ow dare they? How DARE they? I refer, of course, to those of my fellow scriveners who have sought to drag Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother down to their own common little levels with talk of "overdrafts" and "overspending" and "luxurious lifestyles".

How dare they? How DARE they? When one thinks of all that The Queen Mother has suffered, all that she has endured on our behalf! Born plain Elizabeth Mother in Speyside in 1900, as a young girl she discovered what poverty was really like by mixing on a weekly basis with the family servants. But her first taste of real hardship came in 1923, when she unselfishly elected to marry a man called plain Mr George Sixth who had, at that stage, no expectation of becoming king. But she never let her deep sense of bitterness show, preferring to busy herself with Highland Reels and clandestine visits to her beloved East End, often togged up in fishing waders on the off- chance of netting a jellied eel.

Fate has played few tricks more cruel than the one it played on her in 1936. One moment, she was the dutiful and uncomplaining wife of a painfully shy and retiring man, splashing out on the greyhounds, plumping up what few cushions they could afford with the winnings; the next moment she was Queen, forced to preside over the nightmare of four Royal palaces, six Royal castles, 600 Royal servants, a yacht, 10 cars and a tax-free lump sum of pounds 100,000,000.

Of course, she never forgave Wallis Simpson for catapulting her into this veritable mayhem of wealth, luxury and public adoration. Needless to say, Elizabeth always behaved with consummate dignity when greeting Simpson in public. But in private, seated opposite her at table, she would feel it only right and proper to kick her again and again in the shins with her steel-capped shoes.

Just three short years later came the onset of the Second World War, and with it the chance for Elizabeth to shine like a lantern in the prevailing darkness. She did this by placing a torch beneath her ballgown and parading up and down the Mall as each night drew in. It is now widely acknowledged that it was only her unparalleled courage that saw us through that dread war. Herr Hitler was said to be in awe of her, and his top-secret blueprint for the Nazi colonisation of Great Britain shows that he was planning to force her into a pair of leather waders and put her at the forefront of the Nazi stormtroopers. But she was made of stronger stuff.

"Now I can look the East End in the face," she is reported to have quipped when the reverberations from a nearby bomb knocked a carriage clock off a Buckingham Palace mantelpiece, causing it slight damage. Always true to her word, within hours she had sent for an East-Ender and proceeded to look him in the face for a full five minutes. Consequently, the East End took her to their hearts, sending her a ceremonial pound of sprats every birthday at a generous 10 per cent reduction, no questions asked.

But her troubles had only just begun. On the death of her husband in 1952, her daughter came to the throne, a turn of events which the Queen Mother accepted with her customary good grace as she moved out of Buckingham Palace and into Clarence House, taking the curtains, picture hooks and light-fittings with her as a sign of her doughty independence. Imagine the shock of suddenly finding oneself the mistress of a house of 50 servants, eight sitting-rooms, 23 bedrooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, a casino, a greyhound track and an in-house bookies' runner. But Elizabeth was not to be cast down: over the next 40-odd years, she was to carve herself out a position as one of London's most gracious hostesses.

Which is not to say that she was extravagant. Far from it. The only extravagance she ever allowed herself was to spend too much money. Yet, ever mindful of her position in a post-imperial land, she was always on the look out for money-saving tips. During the economic crisis of the early 1970s, Lord St John of Fawsley recalls the shock of getting into his bath at Clarence House only to find that the customary tin of Beluga caviar was no longer waiting for him in the soap dish, and that only three rather than four liveried footmen were waiting for him with hot towels. "But we all soldiered on, knowing full well that the Queen Mum was setting an example to the ordinary decent folk," he explains. Until the economic recovery of the early 80s she tightened her belt, refusing to allow her racehorses to wear pearls, and always insisting that The Duchess of Windsor be served Pedigree Chum on her annual visits to the country. No, we shall not see her like again; nor do we deserve to.

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