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What the Queen's really like in palace corridors, according to author who turned Her Majesty into a detective

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read

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The Queen doesn't expect her staff to drop everything they're doing if they bump into her as she walks the palace hallways, an author has revealed.

Sophia Bennett pooled years of royal watching with research as she imagined the Queen as a detective for her new novel The Windsor Knot.

In it, the Queen takes it on herself to solve crimes, fitting the detective work around her royal duties.

Speaking to Yahoo Style UK, Bennett said she delved into magazines like Horse And Hound and Country Life to find titbits of information about the Queen, to make the book as authentic as possible.

She said: “My father was in the Gurkhas and then the NHS, and so he has met the Queen a dozen times. He has various friends and family members who have worked in the royal households, so I can talk to them.

“They are very loyal, I don’t ask for gossip, for me getting it authentically right is important – what does the Queen call people and what does she do on her days off, what she likes.

“You might see her wandering around Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. If staff see her they might give her a brief nod or curtsy but she does not expect them to drop everything they were doing.

“[I spoke to] some people who are still in their jobs and working close to the Queen, there was one who could tell me about certain medal ceremonies because they had the handbook for them.”

That insider information helped Bennett as she wrote a scene in her book featuring a medal ceremony.

She added: “I was able to speak to someone who could tell me about a private ceremony: just the recipient, the Queen and Princess Margaret.

“[The Queen] can play with protocol – she does not break it, but she is not nearly as formalistic as people might imagine.”

Bennett, who wrote several books for teenagers before turning to this novel, said her love of all things royal came from childhood.

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Sophia Bennett, who publishes under the name SJ Bennett, has turned the Queen into a detective in her new novel. (Zaffre)
Sophia Bennett, who publishes under the name SJ Bennett, has turned the Queen into a detective in her new novel. (Zaffre)

She said: “I have been working on this for a couple of years and in some ways for 40 years.

“I first got interested in the Queen in 1977 when I was 11, in her Silver Jubilee. I loved costume and fashion and I was given a book about the Queen’s clothes.

“What I found out about her is how hard it is to dress her. She wears clothes that will show up in a crowd, her hems have to be weighted so they don’t blow up.

“In her twenties she went to a Royal Variety performance in a black silk dress which really stood out and they found out that department stores afterwards were selling a rip off of it because it was easy to copy.

“After that they started to design stuff that was harder to rip off.”

SALISBURY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II stands after signing a visitor's book during her visit to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down science park on October 15, 2020 near Salisbury, England. The Queen and the Duke of Cambridge visited the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) where they were to view displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter intelligence, a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation and meet staff who were involved in the Salisbury Novichok incident. Her Majesty and His Royal Highness also formally opened the new Energetics Analysis Centre. (Photo by Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Queen, here at Porton Down science park in October 2020 often wears bright colours in public. (Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Bennett said this discovery led her to want to understand how the Queen has had to balance her privilege with her role.

The author said: “She has access to luxury but it is circumscribed to her role. We see this with the younger royals, how the press reports if they step out of line.

“She has enormous privilege but her life is limited. That intrigued me as a writer.”

Bennett felt inspired to seek out fun facts about Her Majesty.

“I did not have to do a tremendous amount of extra research. One of my sources is Horse And Hound – they had a story about her horse called ‘Barbers Shop’, which won her a £50 Tesco voucher. In the photo she is beaming.

“These are the kinds of details that I love to pick up.”

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CHELTENHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 13: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by trainer Nicky Henderson watches her horse 'Barbers Shop' run in the Gold Cup on day 4 'Gold Cup Day' of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 13, 2009 in Cheltenham, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by trainer Nicky Henderson watching her horse 'Barbers Shop' at Cheltenham Racecourse in March 2009. (Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

While the Queen is a public figure, she is shrouded in some mystery, which could make an author nervous about turning her into a main character.

Bennett admitted she did give the book a lot of thought before putting pen to paper.

She added: “As I was thinking about it the next season of The Crown was coming out and Alan Bennett’s (no relation) The Uncommon Reader, it is similar in many ways.

“One thing is, it is kind, I did not set out to reveal anything people don’t know, or put words into people’s mouths that misrepresent them.

“If there are people I don’t like they tend not to be in the books, or are not main characters. That is how I deal with it.”

She added: “Either I’m trying to go for something authentic or it’s fictional. There’s a bit where the Queen is sitting in bed thinking about Putin and whether he would have had someone killed in Windsor – I hope it’s obvious that’s made up.

“If I can get something right, like the name of the Dorgi, or which breed of dog disrupted a tea tent at the Windsor Horse Show – a lurcher – then I will.”

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BADMINTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 1: Queen Elizabeth ll and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones walk with pet corgis, which are a cross between a corgi and a dachshund, at the Badminton Horse Trials in April 1976. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth ll and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones with pet dorgis in April 1976. (Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

Bennett also made sure the events in the book, which is set in 2016, were authentic, by using the Court Circular, which details the Queen’s daily engagements.

She said: “I hadn’t originally planned to make the books accurately reflect the Queen’s daily schedule, but I discovered that I could find out exactly what she did each day she had official duties (or the Duke of Edinburgh did) in spring of 2016, when the book is set.

“In the end it became a logistical challenge that I enjoyed, to fit the murder mystery plot around investitures, Council meetings, her 90th birthday celebrations, the Obama visit to Windsor Castle and audiences with the Bishop of Leicester and Michael Gove.

“Readers may assume that I made some of it up or mixed it around, but I didn’t.”

While Bennett doesn’t know if the Queen has read the book, it has got to the palace.

Bennett said: “I interviewed for a job as an assistant private secretary in the 1990s, and they were very charming and I really wanted the job, so I gave it to the sidekick in the book. She is very contemporary, she is a decorated war veteran.

“So I sent a copy to the palace, to a private secretary I knew by name. I thought it might be amusing to see himself in high heels.”

Bennett’s second book in the series is available to preorder, and she is already writing her third – set at Sandringham at Christmas.

Buy now: The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett | £10.99 from Amazon

The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett imagines the Queen as a detective. (Zaffre)
The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett imagines the Queen as a detective. (Zaffre)

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