On 6 February Her Majesty the Queen became the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee, marking the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne in 1952.
Around the country, people will be celebrating this historic event with a series of public events and street parties. Paying tribute to her constitutional role, her strong sense of civic duty, and her ability to act as a unifying force in the country.
But what do we know about what she does when taking a break from official duties? Not much, truth be told! She has a reputation for protecting her privacy, and that of her family, and rarely gives interviews. Perhaps understandable given the ambivalent relationship the monarchy has with the media.
The life-affirming power of hobbies
But she’s only human. And surely has interests, hobbies and pastimes like the rest of us.
Hobbies are great distractions from the pressures of everyday life. And what people do with their spare time can tell us a lot about their character.
Maybe we can glean a few ideas from hints dropped by interviewers, royal watchers and others over the years. Let’s take a look…
There is nothing as beautiful as a horse
The Queen’s love of horses is well-known. And as The Telegraph reported a few years ago, she has enjoyed riding horses since she was given a Shetland pony at the tender age of four.
But the Queen also enjoys the seductive thrills to be had from horse racing. And, as noted in USA Today, earns a bob or two from her passion for the sport. The Queen is following a proud tradition here as horse racing is, of course, dubbed the Sport of Kings. So-called because, in the early days of thoroughbred racing, going back to the days of King Charles II, ownership of horses was the privilege of royalty and the aristocracy.
She owns more than 100 horses. And her interest in bloodstock breeding has produced a long list of thoroughbreds. Needless to say, the Queen reads the Racing Post every morning. And has rarely missed Epsom Derby or Royal Ascot over the years.
A life without a dog is a life diminished
The Queen’s country estate at Sandringham is the home of the Royal Stud, where she still breeds horses. And, as she once said, if she weren’t the Queen she would live happily in the country with her dogs and horses. For dogs are her other great passion.
Vanity Fair devoted an entire article to her love of corgis. This stretches back to her childhood and her parents’ acquisition of a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Dookie. She’s been fascinated by the breed ever since, overseeing the royal corgi breeding programme through more than 14 generations.
Whether her family completely share her interest isn’t entirely clear. Prince William responded to a question from a TV interviewer on how the Queen’s private life kept her sane with the comment: “I would definitely argue the sanity of all the corgis barking the whole time.” Though he added, “I don’t know how she copes with it.”
But the royal corgis became an integral part of the Queen’s public image. The special coin struck to commemorate her Golden Jubilee in 2002 naturally depicted the monarch with a corgi. And the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London featured the Queen and her corgis appearing in a video with actor Daniel Craig playing James Bond.
It was reported in 2015 that the Queen had decided to stop breeding corgis. The last corgi in the line, Willow, died in 2018. But she has recently been gifted corgi pups by her family and continues to care for two corgis and a ‘dorgi’ (a cross between a dachshund and a corgi).
But these are only the most celebrated of the Queen’s interests.
Let’s talk about pigeons
Less well known is that the Queen is a patron of the National Flying Club, the UK’s premier pigeon racing club. She regularly visits the well-appointed, purpose-built Royal pigeon lofts when in Sandringham. And is reported to be very knowledgeable about both pigeon rearing and racing.
The birds race regularly, and she takes a keen interest in their progress and welfare. As Peter Farrow, the current Royal Loft Manager, noted, “When she visits she wants to know how they are all doing.” With over 200 racing and breeding pigeons, this must take a while…
Enriching our lives with little pieces of gummed paper
Many of us grew up collecting stamps. It’s one of the most popular hobbies around. Offering a window on the world and a way of preserving history. Filled with all sorts of exotic or unusual expressions of the philatelic realm to pique your interest.
The Queen is no exception. And it’s believed that her stamp collection is worth over £2 million, filling around 300 albums and 200 boxes. Naturally, she receives first day covers of all stamps issued in the UK (after all, her head appears on them!).
The Express reported Royal expert Phil Dampier as saying that the Queen takes great joy in the collection, often sharing it with visiting heads of state: “It is one of her pride and joys, not only because she owns some of the world’s most valuable stamps, but also because she has built on a family treasure and feels she has done her father and previous monarchs who owned it proud.”
Life is a lot like jazz…
Known for her love of classic show tunes and the music of her Second World War-era youth, the Telegraph revealed that the Queen is also a bit of a jazz fan. And has a particular affection for the composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington.
Interestingly, she met Ellington in 1958 at an arts festival in Yorkshire, where the jazz musician was said to have “politely flirted with Her Majesty”. Perhaps by way of atonement, he later went on to write The Queen’s Suite in her honour.
The beautiful game
As you might expect, the Queen has tried to keep quiet about which, if any, football team she supports.
Nonetheless, the online news platform Marca reported that she is indeed a football fan. But there’s a healthy debate about whether she favours West Ham United or Arsenal. Take your pick!
We can only speculate what sparked the Queen’s interest in football. But perhaps it was something to do with the joy and passion the game inspires, the way it rewards talent and hard work, and its celebration of teamwork.
A peek into other people’s worlds
The Queen is known to enjoy watching TV, with her tastes ranging from The Kumars at No. 42 through The Bill to classic British soaps such as Coronation Street and EastEnders.
Intriguingly, it’s also rumoured that Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, used their Netflix account to show The Crown to Elizabeth and Prince Philip. What she made of it isn’t known! Although senior members of the royal household are understood to approve of the series.
Leading a full life
Over the course of her long reign, the Queen has witnessed unprecedented social, cultural and political change across the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth.
Through it all, and despite the many vicissitudes experienced by the monarchy during this period, she’s demonstrated that her public role doesn’t have to stand in the way of a meaningful private life.
And she has given us an insight into how hobbies – activities we engage in for pleasure or diversion – can help us maintain our health and wellbeing by adding balance and significance to our lives.
What hobbies do you enjoy? Have you got any you would recommend to your fellow members – or even the Queen herself? Let us know in the comments.