“A great sense of humor”: but what makes the queen laugh?
There has been a lot of solemnity and seriousness in the Queen’s life – but as she reaches her 96th birthday, what has often been overlooked is her sense of humour.
“Laughing was an important survival technique,” says royal historian Robert Lacey.
The Queen’s well-developed “sense of the absurd” has been a vital private outlet from such a highly choreographed public life, where she often has to remain impassive, he says.
“She obviously takes her job seriously – but at the same time, that doesn’t stop her from having a sense of the ridiculous,” Lacey said.
The Duke of Sussex, after last week’s whirlwind visit to the UK, named his grandmother’s “great sense of humour” as his best quality.
Historian and author Sir Anthony Seldon says: “A defining characteristic was that she did not take herself too seriously. This contributed significantly to the success of her reign.”
He says the queen has none of the “self-obsession” he calls the “disease of age”.
“There is a lack of emphasis, a certain irreverence,” he says. “She is able to laugh at misfortune and carry on.”
In private, the queen would be a very good imitator, according to Lacey, historical consultant on Netflix series The crown.
She is said to make a particularly good impression of former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, says Karen Dolby, author of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Wicked Wit.
And she imitates other politicians, clerics and television characters.
Lacey describes the Queen’s humor as often “self-deprecating and lightly poking fun at herself”.
He gives the example of a politician who was embarrassed to have his mobile phone ring during a private conversation with the Queen.
After the phone was switched off, the Queen said: “I hope it wasn’t someone important.”
Dolby particularly likes the story of the Queen accidentally encountering American tourists on a rainy walk with a protection officer near her home in Balmoral.
Not recognizing the shrouded figure, tourists asked her if she had ever met the Queen.
“No, but he did,” she replied, gesturing to the protection officer next to her.
On another private trip, shopping in Norfolk, a saleswoman told her, “You look like the queen.”
To which the queen reportedly replied: “How reassuring.”
There are different versions of these stories – but they all share a dry, understated quality and something of a cryptic side.
Who dares, Windsor
Humor is also a useful way to break the ice and defuse tension when people around her are nervous.
“She sees quickly when people are not comfortable,” says Sir Anthony.
“The ability to be entertained and see the fun side of life helps him stay in touch with people.”
The Queen has met many comedians, including Tommy Cooper, who Ms Dolby says once asked the monarch if she liked football.
When she admitted to not being particularly interested, he replied: “Then can I have your tickets for the FA Cup final?”
In terms of preferences for television comedies, Kumars at No. 42 is said to have been a royal favourite.
daddy’s army, Last summer wine and the late broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan were also mentioned, choices as comfortable as an old cardigan.
The Queen has spent a life under surveillance, the center of constant attention at high-profile ceremonies.
In such stressful situations, laughter is an extremely important response, according to Audrey Tang of the British Psychological Society.
“It’s this gesture of shared relief,” she says.
It makes people feel better physically to laugh and release tension, explains the psychologist.
It’s also a “bonding experience” and the Queen and Prince Philip are said to have shared a great ability to laugh together.
But it can get complicated.
Laughing in private after an event is fine – but everyone has had to suffer from that terrible feeling of giggling at the wrong time.
Such “incongruous emotions” can be a natural, involuntary response to feeling overwhelmed or wanting to relieve the stress of a moment, Dr. Tang says.
Dolby describes the moment the Queen appeared to fight back laughter during an official signing ceremony, after Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien broke the top of his pen and then audibly swore.
“She loves the absurd – and when things go wrong she’s more likely to be amused than upset,” said Sir Anthony.
Photographer Chris Young captured the Queen laughing when a swarm of bees disrupted a military review at Windsor Castle in 2003.
“I recognized it was a human moment,” Mr. Young said.
“She was laughing like a little girl.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were also filmed fighting a losing battle against the giggles, during a throat singing performance in Canada.
In her 1991 Christmas message, the Queen gave her own thoughts.
“Let’s not take ourselves too seriously,” she said.
“None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”