What would it be like to be the Queen? The people, the noise, the endless unveiling of small brass plaques; it would try the patience of a clam. Or else drive you to drink – how many mayors of Grimsby is it possible to meet in a lifetime and not want to defenestrate yourself or drink neat gin out of a bottle? Boredom, not republicanism, is the real enemy of the monarchy.
So it came as precisely no surprise when Vanity Fair last week revealed that the Queen is no flincher at the glass. She knocks it back. When she is at home, the 91-year-old monarch manages to put away two cocktails and a glass of wine before 1pm and then rounds off a day of queening with a glass of champagne before bed.
And why not? No one could ever begrudge her the odd glass. She has 16 countries and 128 million people to think of. Most of us can barely recall our mom’s birthday. But it does beg a question: Is the Queen buzzed all the time? Can you drink that much booze and not feel a little tipsy? In the interest of science and/or international politics, I decided to drink like the Queen for the day and see what happened.
The first problem I encountered was that the Queen’s first drink of the day, according to former royal chef, Darren McGrady, is a cocktail made of one part gin and two parts Dubonnet.
Now, unless you are, say, the Duchess of Argyll or a royal footman, you have probably never come across Dubonnet, an aromatized wine-based aperitif, which is likely because it is not very nice. It is largely thought that the only reason the drink is still in production is because the Queen likes it (though it doesn’t have a royal warrant; presumably because it is French) and, sure enough, you can’t even get it at a normal British grocery store. After ordering the fortified wine off the internet, I mix it with my gin, add the lemon and drink it with “lots of ice”. It is fragrant, it is strong, it is what I imagine drinking Estée Lauder is like. At this point I start to feel the unmistakable pleasure of mild drunkenness. I wouldn’t, say, go and climb up some scaffolding, but I am on my way.
Next up, along with her lunch, Her Majesty enjoys a gin martini. Apparently she follows the Noël Coward rule when it comes to making the king of cocktails. A perfect martini, said Coward, should be made by filling a glass with gin, and then waving it in the general direction of a bottle of vermouth. So lots of gin and just a tiny bit of vermouth goes into a shaker. It went down like the devil in leather pants, as you would expect for something composed of pure alcohol. I feel free of life’s concerns. I am happy. It is 12:32pm.
After lunch, the Queen, oddly, has a glass of wine and a small square of chocolate. This seems somewhat ascetic to me, but each to their own. It is unclear which type she favors but I go for a Syrah-Grenache blend with a picture of a sausage dog on the label and the name Longue-Dog. It would have taken all my moral resources to have only one glass so I drink three. I feel confused, amused, and ready for action. I do not feel I could entertain a prime minister.
And so we reach the hardest part, the unending stretch of desert between the last drink with lunch and the pre-bed sharpener. Tiredness comes on strong. I feel useless, incapable of concentration. I have a hangover by 3pm. But then salvation – before bed, a glass of Veuve Clicquot. The delicate bubbles make me pleased. My hangover goes fades away. I drift off to sleep.
I have drunk more in my life than this before, and I have drunk for longer, seldom at lunch. Apparently when the late Queen Mother was having lunch with her daughter and the Queen asked for her meal-ending glass of wine, the Queen Mum lifted her head, smiled and said, “Is that wise? You know you have to reign all afternoon.” Reader, that afternoon, I couldn’t have rained on a parade.