Secrets Of Statecraft: Seventy Years On The Throne: Robert Hardman Explains Queen Elizabeth II’s Statecraft

interview with Andrew Roberts, Robert Hardman
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

On the occasion of her unprecedented platinum jubilee, Queen Elizabeth’s biographer and star Daily Mail reporter Robert Hardman discusses her use of soft power in Britain’s unwritten constitution.

To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:

Andrew Roberts: Hello, this is Andrew Roberts, and welcome back to the Secrets of Statecraft podcast. On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee, I spoke to Robert Hardman, the best of her biographers and a star reporter on the Daily Mail. We discussed the Queen's 70 years on the throne and her unparalleled use of soft power state craft. Robert Hardman, first of all, congratulations on the great success of your book, Queen of Our Times, which I see is in the bestseller list. I wonder whether or not-
Robert Hardman: Thank you.
Andrew Roberts: I wonder whether or not you can tell us about... Draw a picture of what Britain and the world was like in 1952 when Her Majesty the Queen came to the throne.
Robert Hardman: Well, thank you, Andrew. It's a pleasure to be here. And when we look back to '52, we're looking at, frankly, another age. We're looking at a largely monocultural society in Britain. We're looking at a time of rationing. Britain is still in the throes of the Korean War. We haven't really even begun the jet age, let alone the space age, and half the countries that exist on Earth today don't exist in their present form. So since that time, half the nations on earth have acquired their constitutions, their flags, their anthems. Everything that we would come to regard as normal today from owning a car, from being able to pop out to the shops, from turning on the television, none of that really applies in 1952. This is a world that is still, certainly in Britain at any rate, in a sort of post-war setting. There are still bomb sites. There are still, as I say, rationing and people are very much getting over the complete upheaval of the Second World War.
Andrew Roberts: And when one thinks therefore of the world today, 70 years later, totally different in every way, apart from we have the same monarch. I mean, what are the precedents for a reign as long as this one?
Robert Hardman: There really aren't very many. I mean, at the moment the queen is by far and away the longest serving head of state in the world today. She's the longest reigning, longest lived Monarch in British history. She's not quite the longest reigning monarch of all time. She's got to carry on, as I'm sure she will, until May, 2024, when she will finally overtake Louis XIV of France who had a head start by coming to the throne as a little boy. She of course came to the throne as a 25 year old mother of two. But I have every confidence that we'll be marking that particular moment in due course. Not that she will. She doesn't really get competitive about these things, but the rest of us certainly do.
Andrew Roberts: Now this podcast of mine is about the secrets of state craft and it strikes me that the queen does exercise tremendous soft power for Britain. Doesn't she? We're going to be talking about various occasions in her reign where she's helped Britain and the Commonwealth long just by essentially her authority and her presence, despite of course having constitutionally to stay out of politics. So do you feel that her approach to her constitutional duties has changed at all from 1952 to today?
Robert Hardman: I don't think the overall approach is any different. It's very correct. She learned state craft. She learned her history through her father. It's one of the things she was taught as a young girl by a very eminent Eaton beak called Henry Martin. She was sort of raised on the central tenants of constitutional monarchy, which are that the government of the day, the elected government, will do the governing, but you are there as above politics to essentially to see fair play, to uphold democracy. And that's been really sort of her guiding light. And I mean, you talk about soft power. Absolutely she is the quintessence of soft power, I think. I spoke to professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University when I was writing my book, the man who originally devised the concept of soft power, this idea of influence and persuasion over brute force and coercion.
Robert Hardman: And I think she embodies that. She's embodied that right the way through her reign. I mean today, yes, she's a very revered figure, every world leader wants to meet her, and that's in part because of all the history she represents, but that was the same very early on in the reign. She was this extraordinary figure who represented, not just a great sort of [inaudible 00:05:25] of history, but also carried with her this sense of duty, of service, and of authenticity. I don't think anyone's ever felt that the queen is trying to pull a fast one, that there's ever any side being taken. She is utterly dependable, utterly reliable. And that really continues today as it always has done.
Andrew Roberts: With regard to her soft power, she's been very influential with regard to the special relationship, hasn't she? Over the years, she's met a truly extraordinary number of presidents, for starters, hasn't she?
Robert Hardman: Yes. She has met 14 US Presidents, which when I spoke to George W. Bush, he couldn't really think of anybody, anywhere, ever who's not just shaken hands with, but actually met, known 14 Presidents. She started with President Truman on her first trip to the US in 1951, met every President since then with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. But with the addition of President Hoover, who she actually met, he'd retired by then, but she met him on her 1957 state visit to the USA. So that in and itself, that's the of level of experience that no one else can match. But it's [inaudible 00:06:50] a case of having these sort of memories, of being able to say, "Oh, I've met more Presidents than you." It's actually bringing to bear a sense of what they were about.
Robert Hardman: One of the things that particularly struck Barack Obama when he came on his state visit in 2011, he was just sort of blown away as he put it by her ability to provide these sort of pen portraits of his predecessors, just to sort remember what had been the big issues of the day, how they'd [inaudible 00:07:18]. She's very much interested in the people side of politics and what makes politicians tick, and to be able to recount some of that, just to recount the sort of the mood of the moment when Kennedy came to dinner in '61, or when Nixon came to lunch in '68, or lunch again in 1970, or dancing with Gerald Ford, marking bicentenary of American independence in 1976.
Robert Hardman: These are moments and nobody else can really conjure up these memories. But at the same time, she's not a sentimentalist, she very much lives in the present. And I think all leaders that have met her have found her refreshingly human, but also very willing to sort of share, to go back over some of these memories, but to put them in a modern context. It's not just about wallowing in nostalgia and saying, "Oh, I had a lovely time then." It's about giving it some sort of modern application as well.
Andrew Roberts: Which presidents do you think she liked the most?
Robert Hardman: It's a tricky one.
Andrew Roberts: And disliked the most as well. Go on.
Robert Hardman: Prime Ministers actually, very, very hard. The only one she ever called by his first name was Winston. And I think her least favorite Prime Minister is probably Edward Heath for various reasons we can go into later. But Presidents wise, I think there was a real friendship with Ronald Reagan, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, as actually was replicated at a political level, obviously with Margaret Thatcher. But Reagan was someone who was relatively close in age to her, but who really sort of came to Britain's side at a time when it really mattered.
Robert Hardman: In the early '80s, her nation, her armed forces, and of course her son, Prince Andrew, were all at war in the South Atlantic and Reagan turned out to be a very staunch ally and came to stay at Windsor, right at just towards the end of the Falklands Crisis, and it was a huge morale booster for Britain and for the Queen person. And she loved having the Reagans. And of course, that celebrated sight of the two heads of state riding out on horseback, out of Windsor Castle across the park. I mean, it's one of the kind defining images I think of her reign, certainly of the '80s.
Robert Hardman: And what I found in the course of research in my book was, I mean, obviously this meant a great deal to Britain, to the Queen, to the government, to have the US President riding, spending a whole morning on horseback with the Queen and clearly loving it. But what's fascinating is having got my hands on some of the classified files after quite a lot of freedom of information requests here in the UK, and reading up on quite how important this moment was to Reagan as well.
Robert Hardman: I mean, he was on his first big European tour, this mattered a lot. He was going to a NATO summit, a G-7 summit, he was going for an audience with the Pope. He was going to make a historic joint address to the Houses of Parliament, but as the diplomatic cables make very clear, the thing that mattered to him far more than anything else was his ride with the Queen. What horse was he going to be on? What sort of saddle? What ought he to wear? And he loved it. And that sort of soft power, that is a level of influence you just can't buy. And that leads to this sort of friendship with Reagan.
Andrew Roberts: But didn't he invited her to his ranch?
Robert Hardman: That's right. Exactly. So the following year, he knows that the Queen has always wanted to go to Hollywood. And of course, when you are head of state, you go on state visits, you always have to go to Washington. And he sort of cut through this, said, "No, no, you're going to come and stay with me in California and we're going to see Hollywood." And the Queen was absolutely thrilled.
Robert Hardman: with me in California and we're going to see Hollywood and the Queen's absolutely thrilled. Finally she's going to get to see Hollywood. She's always loved the movies. She's always loved musicals. And so the following year is not called a state visit, it's called an official visit. And so she and Prince Philip fly out to California and the Royal yachts there as well. It's the most dreadful weather. I mean, the whole itinerary is sort of thrown into turmoil by these endless downpours, but the Queen doesn't really care. She's having a lovely time. She's in California and Reagan lays on this huge lunch in Hollywood. And then, as you say, invites her up to the ranch, and she's the only world leader who gets that sort of treatment, who actually gets invited into the sort of inner sanctum.
Robert Hardman: And it's just Ron and Nancy and the Queen and Prince Philip and they're there. And they're chopping wood and having a barbecue. And as again, you read the diplomatic cables on this. I mean, the foreign office can scarcely believe their luck. It's sort of, this is a level of access and influence that no prime minister could ever hope to achieve. And it's being achieved by the Queen. This is absolutely the quintessence of soft power and that friendship carries on. And it's followed in very short order by George Bush, Sr., who's an exact contemporary of the Queen. Barbara Bush is an exact contemporary of the Queen and Prince Philip. Both George Bush and Prince Philip served in the far east in the war. They've got very similar experiences.
Robert Hardman: So again, that sort of carries on and you do find at periods, I think through the so-called special relationship, there are times when it's not terribly special. In the late sixties you had Britain and Vietnam, sorry, Britain and the USA at loggerheads over the Vietnam War. During say the John Major Bill Clinton era, there were a lot of strains and stresses between [inaudible 00:12:57] street and the White House. And at those moments, it's the sort of the palace White House access that is sort of keeping the special relationship alive [crosstalk 00:13:08]
Andrew Roberts: President Obama wasn't terribly pro-British, was he, at the beginning?
Robert Hardman: No, absolutely. When I spoke to David Cameron about this, he said they were all very worried at the start of the Obama presidency. He was like, well, what does Obama think about Britain and someone pipes up and says, well, his luggage once got lost at Heathrow. Didn't have very happy memories.
Andrew Roberts: That doesn't put him in the minority.
Robert Hardman: And on a rather more serious note, the British at one point, allegedly tortured his grandfather in Kenya. This is a president who has very little reason to have any sort of sentimental ideas about Britain. And to start with, as Gordon brown discovered, he was not particularly well disposed towards this country. However, he soon got to know the Queen and Prince Philip, and on one of his earlier presidential visits to Britain for a NATO summit and then the G20 summit, he came to London and the Queen had a reception, as she always does for visiting world leaders. And they met and they kind of hit it off. And on subsequent visits, the Queen would always be there. When the Queen discovered that Michelle Obama was coming through London with her daughters on a private visit, she said, well, come around to the palace for tea.
Robert Hardman: And she laid a little carriage ride around the garden for Michelle Obama and Michelle Obama's mother, in fact, as well. And the daughters. I mean, they absolutely loved it. As one of Obama's aides said to me, there weren't many things that the Obama family had on their bucket list, but that really was one of. And so this sort of personal, friendship is probably not too strong a word. I think it was a friendship with Obama. This began and it was really cemented in that 2011 state visit just after the Royal wedding of William and Kate. And again, in the course of researching my book, I spoke to the man who organized that visit, Ben Rhodes, Obama's senior speech writer and senior aide, who just said he was completely captivated by this.
Robert Hardman: It was a sort of bizarre evening at the palace, where Obama was enjoying himself so much, he wouldn't go to bed. And at one point the Queen went up to George Osborne said, look, excuse me, could you ask the president to go to bed because it is bedtime. Poor George Osborne sort said, oh, okay, I'll try, ma'am. Went and sort of spoke to the private secretary who gently nudged the Obamas after their quarters in the Belgian suite. And as Ben Rhode said, Obama just wanted to sit up and talk about it. And he was sitting there. They were meant to be working on their speech. And Obama was just reflecting on this extraordinary evening and just what a wonderful time he'd had with the Queen and all her memories. And he reflected at one point, one of the aides in the room said, do we think the British empire, it's all a bit over isn't it? As they looked at the sort of jaded Victorian decor, and Obama said, I'm not sure about that.
Robert Hardman: Did you see the bling on the Queen? And he'd been very taken by the jewelry. And there was a sort of comic moment, again, there was a knock on the door. It was a footman to say, I'm very sorry, Mr. President, but there's a mouse. Obama said, don't tell the first lady, she hates mice. So you have this sort of comic moment of this sort of mouse hunt going on in the guest suite in the next door rooms. Well, Michelle Obama is going to bed and there's the president and the footman trying to get rid of this mouse. In this sort of bizarre setup, this elderly palace, where it's the only quarters of [inaudible 00:16:53] stadium, which didn't even have an en suite bathroom. All in all, it was not what you might expect to be a recipe for a great encounter, and yet he absolutely loved it. And a few years later, after many subsequent meetings with the Queen, he famously made a speech at the funeral of [inaudible 00:17:11] where he basically was an essay on what constitutes great leadership. And he singled out two great examples of post war leadership that had inspired him. And one was Nelson Mandela, and the other was the Queen. And again, it goes back to my point. That is soft power.
Andrew Roberts: And the Queen got on very well with Nelson Mandela as well, didn't they?
Robert Hardman: The Queen and Mandela, that was a genuine friendship. Again, two people of fairly similar age and the Queen, of course, everybody knows how devoted she was to her Commonwealth and still is. And Mandela was as well. And Mandela always appreciated the role that the Commonwealth had played in being very much at the vanguard of fighting apartheid. And the Queen was immensely touched that the very first major executive decision by Nelson Mandela on being elected as president in 1994 was to reattach South Africa to the Commonwealth. She was thrilled by that. And the following year, she made her historic state visit to South Africa. She'd always refused to go anywhere near it during the apartheid years. And now at last, she could go back. She hadn't been back there since that great epic trip with her father in 1947, where she'd made that famous speech declaring that the whole of her life, whether it be long or short, would be devoted to the Commonwealth, or the Imperial family, as it was called then.
Robert Hardman: And so there she is going back after all these years, and there on the key side, hand outstretched, is Mandela. I was there at the time. I was lucky enough to be reporting on that. And it just was one of those electric moments as she came down the gangplank of Britannia and there was Mandela, saying, oh, your majesty. And this smile on her face was just something else. And that trip, she definitely regarded that as one of the high points of her reign. And after that, they were genuinely good friends. And he came on a state visit to Britain a year later. He was the only world leader, non Royal ward leader, who was allowed to call her Elizabeth and get away with it. Everyone else thought [inaudible 00:19:31] be a sort of leader, sort of protocol seizure, if anyone else had tried that.
Robert Hardman: But Nelson Mandela, he could do whatever he liked. She absolutely. She thought he was marvelous. He thought the same. And over the years, [inaudible 00:19:44] sort of come across all sorts of funny encounters between them. She stayed in touch with him long after he retired. If he was ever coming through London, she'd insist that he dropped round. One occasion he found himself discussing prince Harry's O level paper, GCSE paper, which [inaudible 00:20:00] very difficult, these exams, and the two of them are sitting there discussing it. On another occasion, he came in and went, oh, Elizabeth, you've lost weight. At which point half the private secretaries [inaudible 00:20:10] did he just say that? And of course she didn't care. It was Nelson. That was another real genuine friendship. And because I think at the heart of it, and Obama made, made this point in his speech, they're very similar characters. They're understated. They can appreciate how a small gesture can go a long way. They're quite calm people. They don't get angry, they don't overreact. And they're authentic. I mean, they are absolutely, they are two characters of whom people knew what they were getting. And that I think is increasingly rare in an age of fairly febrile politics.
Andrew Roberts: Tell us about the world leaders she hasn't got on with. Who are the ones that she didn't like?
Robert Hardman: Yes, there are a few who I think she just sort of found them rather badly behaved. And then some who she genuinely just found utterly objectionable. I think probably very high on that list is Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania who came on, arguably the worst state visit ever in 1978. He'd been invited by the labor government of Jim Callahan, or in fact, his predecessor, Harold Wilson, had issued the invitation. And the whole idea was that Ceaușescu was going to come to Britain and sign a contract to buy lots of British civilian aircraft. And that was the deal. You can come and stay with the Queen, but you've got to buy these aircraft. And so the Queen was forced to accommodate this tyrant and again, you read all of the diplomatic papers. Everyone was very well aware.
Robert Hardman: Again, you read all the diplomatic papers. Everyone was very well aware of how thoroughly unpleasant Ceaușescu was, how he persecuted minorities, and at the same time, how his wife, Elena, was this complete fraud who had believed herself to be a world class chemist and wherever she weren't expected to be handed academic honors of great distinction.
Robert Hardman: In the run up to this state visit, there was this panic at the Foreign Office because Madam Ceaușescu was very much expecting to be given an honorary doctorate or two in an honorary professorship, and no British universities would oblige. They tried Oxford and Cambridge, no joy. They went right the way through the academic spectrum and nobody would play ball, because they all knew, A, how ghastly the Ceaușescus were, and B, what a fraud Mrs. Ceaușescu was.
Robert Hardman: Finally, at the end of the day, the Polytechnic of Central London and said, "All right, we'll give her an honorary doctorate." At which point that became a central part of the visit, but they were paranoid, chippy, difficult.
Robert Hardman: In the days before their arrival, the Queen actually took a call from Giscard d'Estaing of France who warned her, because the Ceaușescus had recently been to stay in Paris. He said, "They absolutely destroyed their quarters. Anything that moved, they stole. They took back with them." But they've been gouging out holes in the wall, looking for bugs and bugging devices. The Queen quickly said to the master of the household, "Anything that moves, get it out quick. We don't want to start losing precious china or vases."
Robert Hardman: Actually, Ceaușescu behaved very well. He was completely over awed by the queen, but he was very distrusting of everything around him. He brought all his clothes in hermetically sealed plastic cases, because he was convinced palace staff might try and poison his clothing. He was just a sullen, gloomy presence. He didn't really talk to anyone inside the building, because again, he thought he was being bugged.
Robert Hardman: He conducted all his conversations with his wife and his aides and the garden, only known occasion where the Queen actually hid in her own garden. She was out walking the corgis one afternoon and saw the Ceaușescus coming around the corner and just thought, ugh, can't bear it. She just hid behind a bush and waited in the [inaudible 00:24:26] to go. I know that's true because she told one of my interviewees over lunch. Ceaușescu, definitely a [inaudible 00:24:36].
Robert Hardman: She didn't like Idi Amin very much. She was rather fascinated by him when he took of Uganda in a coup, and then insisted on coming to London. Initially the British government were quite keen to get him on side, but rapidly realized they were dealing with a psychopath. One of the few occasions actually where the Queen managed to avert a small war over lunch, because he had lunch with the queen And confided in her that he was planning to invade Tanzania in order to claim a land corridor through to the Indian Ocean.
Robert Hardman: The Queen happened to be very friendly with Joseph Nyerere, the president of Tanzania, and thought, well, I really don't think President Nyerere is going to be very happy about being invaded. As soon as lunch was there, but she told her private secretary to ring up the Foreign Secretary.
Robert Hardman: Amin is about to invade Tanzania, to which a foreign secretary said, "Oh, well, that's very helpful because he is just on his way to see me now, and he wants more armored cars." They managed to block that armed sail, but all through the reign, there's just been the-
Andrew Roberts: In a sense, sorry, it's about [inaudible 00:25:50], but in a sense, that isn't soft power, that's genuine power, isn't it, to be able to avert a war?
Robert Hardman: Indeed, it is. It's probably a slight breach of what I was saying earlier, the Queen's immensely trustworthy and you can confide in her. I think you can confide most things in her, but if you are planning to invade one of her friends' countries, then she might just have a word with someone.
Andrew Roberts: Tell us about the triumph of her trip to Ireland in 2011, because that really was a historic occasion, wasn't it?
Robert Hardman: Yeah, that-
Andrew Roberts: In regard to peacemaking and soft power and statecraft and so on.
Robert Hardman: Absolutely. That again, and that's really relatively recently. By this point, the queen is well into her ninth decade, a time when almost every other world leader would long since have retired, and she's always wanted to visit her nearest neighbor. It is extraordinary that at that point, she'd been right the way around the world, traveled further than any monarch ever, but she'd never been to the only country that shares a land border with the United Kingdom. She'd always wanted to.
Robert Hardman: It was a hundred years since the British monarch had set first in what we now call the Republic of Ireland, and it was setting a seal really on a peace process. It had been underway for some years. It was the final imprimatur, if you like, of normality in the island of Ireland. She was extremely keen to go.
Robert Hardman: What I discovered interviewing the British ambassador at the time was that the Irish government were talking about possibly a two day trip for the Queen. It was one of those rare occasions where the palace were actually pushing to make her do more. She wanted to be there for four days. It turned into a much longer trip, because she really wanted to see Ireland and meet as many people as she could.
Robert Hardman: It had a magic about it, because here was... The story of UK-Irish politics, it's a long and turbulent and often bloody one, and the Troubles of Northern Ireland, we don't even need to go into here. I mean, decades of just misery. Finally, here comes this figure who, really, I think, does more to promote UK-Irish cohesion, harmony, whatever you want to call it, in the space of a few days then politicians have achieved in decades, because she represents so much.
Robert Hardman: So much of it was done without even speaking. On the first day she arrived, I just remember the moment where the plane came to a halt on the runway and the door opened and there she was an emerald green. One of the Irish press corp standing next to me, turned around and said, "Well, we can all go home now. She's one." She was just there in green. She was in green and it was great.
Robert Hardman: Later that day, she went to the monument in Dublin. It's a sacred monument to the martyrs of the independence movement, basically people who lost their lives fighting the British crowd. She laid a wreath and she bowed and without saying a word, the sight of the monarch who bows to no one, nodding, bowing, her recognition, her respect at the sacred place. Every bit of sacred as the Cenotaph is on Whitehall.
Robert Hardman: These things carry enormous weight. Then at the state banquet the following evening of Dublin Castle, she prefaced her speech with a few words of Gaelic. But they'd been very well practiced, and no one was expecting them. They just, they had this sort of, I suppose, you'd call it a healing effect almost instantly, and lots of other little touches.
Robert Hardman: Angela Kelly, her dresser, who's in charge of her wardrobe, had gone to a lot of trouble sowing 1,091 crystal shamrocks under her ball gown. No one made a point of this. They were just there, but this sort of thing gets picked up. This is state craft at a minute level. But as I say, these small gestures go a long way. It just created this mood that I would regard as the high point. It's gone backwards, obviously, since Brexit. For that period for several years, London and Dublin were as close as they had ever been.
Andrew Roberts: When sees it also, doesn't one, at the time of 9/11, when the Queen made, or at least gave a message, to the British ambassador in Washington about what to say about 9/11. There was the particular point of having the Star Spangled Banner played at Buckingham Palace, and then that extraordinary phrase, "Grief is the price we pay for love," which I think is one of the most powerful things that she's ever said.
Robert Hardman: It's a great line, and it's one it's one of the most quoted lines now at funerals, for example, and on bereavement cards. But no, she was absolutely, she was mortified. She sat up at Balmoral watching 9/11 unfold and immediately wanted to do something and made it very clear that the guard change at the palace the next day was going to reflect that.
Robert Hardman: You had this great sense of togetherness. That moment where Tony Blair, while all the aircraft in the world are grounded, but Blair gets on a plane and flies to Washington to be in Congress for the presidential address. That's a powerful moment.
Robert Hardman: George Bush was recounting this to me, but he talked about how that was a great moment. But so too was the Queen's very obvious empathy with the American people, and subsequent invitations for US Forces and those involved in 9/11 to come to Britain to mark memorial services in the UK. Two years later, she welcomed George Bush on what was actually the first full ceremonial state visit for US president to the United Kingdom. So, yes, again, in a time of crisis, she's been a very loyal ally.
Andrew Roberts: She goes on holiday there, doesn't she, to America?
Robert Hardman: Yeah. She doesn't really go on holiday anywhere very often. You can count probably on the fingers of two hands, the number of foreign holidays she's had, and they have all been with a couple of exceptions. They've been to America. She used to love going, and particularly in the '80s, she would go on what Prince Philip used to-
Robert Hardman: She would go on what Prince Philip used to call her horse trips. And she'd just go and look at ranches in Kentucky, and Wyoming. And she liked to just, again, catch up with the horse racing community in the US. Always had a lifelong interest, as we know, in racing and horses. And there were a lot of overlaps there. She'd be looking for new bloodlines. I mean, it wouldn't just be a put your feet out holiday, it was very much a working holiday, but looking at horses. Other than America, all her holidays would be spent in the Scottish Highlands. But there was something always very important to her about the transatlantic relationship, and I think goes right back to the second world war.
Robert Hardman: I think when you've grown up around a monarch who feels that any minute his country's going to be invaded, his empire's going to implode, that he himself is going to be killed. He's been warned that there are enemy paratroops on their way to kidnap his daughters. This absolute apocalyptic sense of doom. And suddenly America comes into the war and there is this sense that all will be well, this redemptive feeling this great ally is here. I think it has a profound effect, it certainly did on the Royal family. I think that underpinned her love of, well, really of all things American. Soon, straight after the war, Oklahoma came to London and she absolutely loved this, it was so exciting this Broadway musical. She went to see it dozens of times. The song, People Will Say We're in Love, it became her favorite tune. It's often been said she was never a huge fan of what some called high culture. She was never a great fan of opera or ballet, but she always loved a good Hollywood hit.
Andrew Roberts: Now she's never given an interview, has she? How important do you think that is to her ability to retain a sense of mystique?
Robert Hardman: I think her mystique is one of her great attributes. It's the fact that here we are well into her 10th decade, and we're all asking the question that we've always asked. Which is, what's she really like? And the answer is, we don't really know because she won't really tell us. And good for her. As her biographer, as a journalist, of course I'd love to sit down and have an interview with her, and hear what she really thought about all these leaders she's met, all these crises she's handled. But that's not her way. It's different for younger generations, every generation has to move with the times. Previous monarchs would've been absolutely aghast at the very idea of letting TV cameras into the palace, for example, that's something she has done. But she's kept her thoughts to herself.
Robert Hardman: And I think it has served her well, particularly when you look at how long her reign has been. She's the first monarch in our history who's come to the throne in the expectation not that they will consolidate power and make Britain bigger and better and stronger, but in the expectation that she will manage decline. She will hand territory back, she will wave goodbye to all these colonies, but with a smile and a handshake. And I think that the Commonwealth, even if it is a slightly dated organization now, and it's not as important as it once was. I think it still is emblematic of the transformative way that she has taken what was an old imperial power very much on a downward trajectory, and given it a new lease of life and made Britain the strong, confident country it is today.
Andrew Roberts: And the Commonwealth is growing, isn't it? Even countries that were not in the empire.
Robert Hardman: Yeah. This year, 2022, the Commonwealth will be meeting in Rwanda, which was never part of British Empire. Had a very unhappy time as part of the Belgian Empire. But it was very keen to join the Commonwealth. At the moment there is a waiting list, and I think top of the queue currently is Angola, which is a Portuguese colony. Mozambique, now a Commonwealth nation. That was a Portuguese colony. So a lot of these places can see the advantages. And it's not about some dewy-eyed sentimental attachment to the royal family. It's very much a sense that this is an organization that operates, it's a pretty formidable network. These are all countries, largely, with which have a shared language, a shared way of doing things, a shared legal code. And have this extraordinary complex web of civil societies that help each other all the time.
Robert Hardman: At one level, there's a political level every two years that the prime ministers get together and have their meeting. But actually, the day-to-day work of the Commonwealth is just done by this endless group of Commonwealth associations. Covering literally everything from tax keeping to the police, to parliamentary associations. I think the one with the longest name is the Commonwealth Association of Pediatric Gastroenterologists. There's a Commonwealth Association of Dentists. If you're a small nation, you're trying to find your way. You're trying to become an autonomous free new democracy. And you are trying to work out, how do I do this? How do I do that? You've just got this network you can call on, and it's called the Commonwealth.
Andrew Roberts: Tell us about the time that she essentially held the Commonwealth together at the Lusaka summit.
Robert Hardman: Yes. There'd been a number of occasions, I think, where the Commonwealth came very close to collapse. Largely to do with disagreements over southern Africa, laterally over apartheid and sanctions in South Africa. But before that, in 1979, the big issue was, what's going to happen to Rhodesia? Rhodesia is then still a British colony, but the white British... Well, they're not British, they've declared independence. They've unilaterally set themselves up as a nation, but it's a white supremacist nation. The black majority have no vote, and Britain can do nothing about this unless it decides it's going to wade in with armed force. That's not going to happen. It's a very tense situation. There is a civil war, it was known as the Bush War, raging largely between the white minority and the black majority, two large guerrilla armies.
Robert Hardman: It's getting particularly bloody, thousands of people have being killed on either side. And the Commonwealth finally decides, we've got to do something about this. And so they come together for their meeting in 1979 in Zambia, which happens to be just over the border from Rhodesia. And there are big stresses because you've got, essentially, the African nations are very keen that Rhodesia is finished and that a new country and black majority rule takes place. And yet you've got some of the older Commonwealth nations, notably Britain and New Zealand, that are trying to find halfway house. Mrs. Thatcher has got a lot on her plate, she's only just become prime minister, but she's not particularly convinced that these gorilla forces - one backed by the Soviets, one backed by the Chinese - are necessarily the best way forward for a new Rhodesia. And things are getting quite stressful ahead of the summit.
Robert Hardman: And it gets to the point where the president, the host of the summit, President Kaunda, is about to make a speech in which he's going to just explode with rage about Mrs. Thatcher, and say all sorts of things. Very angry, heated things about Mrs. Thatcher, which are just going to derail this summit. And the British Foreign Office find out about this, they let the Queen know. And the Queen personally intervenes and says to Kaunda, "Look, don't make the speech. It's not going to achieve anything what you want. Just don't make it. Let's try consensus rather than confrontation." And we know that, because her private secretary inserted a memo to that effect into the official account of the tour afterwards. And it had a remarkable result, consensus was achieved. Mrs. Thatcher came around to the idea of what became the Lancaster House Talks, that led to the end of Rhodesia and the creation of modern Zimbabwe.
Robert Hardman: And you can point very closely, very clearly, there's no question about this, the Queen played a significant... Not a determining, but certainly a significant part in the process that led to the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. And that process, it could well be argued in turn, was what ultimately led to the dismantling of the apartheid regime over the border in South Africa.
Andrew Roberts: Robert Hardman, you've said that we don't really know what she's like, but it strikes me that the best way to find out the closest we're ever going to actually come to finding out what she's really like, is by reading your wonderful book, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II. Thank you very much for coming on the podcast.
Robert Hardman: Thank you very much, Andrew. I've greatly enjoyed it.
Andrew Roberts: I'd like to thank Robert Hardman for joining us for that conversation about the Queen on the occasion of her Jubilee. Join me for the next podcast, where I'll be having a frank and fascinating conversation with former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Until then, thank you for listening, and goodbye.
Speaker 2: This podcast is a production of the Hoover Institution, where we advance ideas that define a free society and improve the human condition. For more information about our work, or to listen to more of our podcasts, or watch our videos, please visit

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