MThe career as the Queen’s likeness could never have happened if I hadn’t encountered an advertisement in the local newspaper in 1972. Locked up for ideas for my husband Ken’s birthday, I read about the portrait service of artist Jane Thornhill and thought, ” Why not? “
I loved the finished piece, and Jane asked if she could present it for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. They assumed the painting was from the queen and contacted Buckingham Palace, who said she was not sitting. Because portraits in the exhibition had to be painted of life, Jane was disqualified.
When she arrived at the gallery to collect her work, journalists jumped on her. After that, my phone kept ringing – I was interviewed for newspapers, magazines and radio, and an agent said that my resemblance to the Queen could be a penny.
He was not the first person to notice the resemblance. On a trip to Greenwich when I was 11 or 12, a photographer asked if he could use me in some photos, saying, “She looks like Princess Elizabeth.” Later, I would pull crowds, especially overseas, and sometimes had to run away.
The Queen and I were born only 18 months apart, and as we got older our appearance remained the same – although I am a little shorter. When the portrait sparked interest, I was in my 40’s and my family settled in a village near Chelmsford. Before I had kids, I worked as an auctioneer and typist, but I always wanted to act. I was into amateur productions, had speaking lessons and even auditioned for Rada. But the fees were too expensive, and my appearance counted against me – no matter what role I took, I would hear comments from the audience, and sometimes even laughter.
But as the agent approached me, I realized that there might be a way to make my resemblance to the Queen work for me. I signed up with an agency that delivered models for advertisements. When I appeared in one with a stuffed corgi, it caused controversy, with newspapers insisting that the image was disrespectful to the royal family. But I have always been an ardent royalist and respect the Queen – I would never have done anything that reflected the monarch or myself badly. Over the years I have refused large sums to pose for Page 3 type images, and have insisted that I should never be portrayed as the Queen at the time of appearance. I don’t think anyone else has lived like someone famous before – now there’s a whole industry.
For the next 40 years, I appeared on television talk shows, opened supermarkets, helped magicians, and filmed commercials all over the world. Bands wanted me for music videos, and I handed out presents with Liberace and presented a silver record to the band Queen. The only time Ken was impressed was when he met Muhammad Ali who asked for a photo with me.
Comedians like Joan Rivers hired me to wave from the royal box when they performed, and I finally started getting an acting job. I’ve worked with Sooty and Roland Rat, and I’m proud to have starred in Blue Peter. I was sitting when Spitting Image’s team modeled their puppet of the queen, and contributed to candid camera shows and sketches for the Goodies, the Rutles and Spike Milligan, though I gave a brief concern to Ali G when he asked me to drop. my pants as I got into a limousine.
Finally Hollywood came calling. Mike Myers was kind to me when I worked on Austin Powers, even after I confused him with a crew member. Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley were charming in making Naked Gun. OJ Simpson was rude, though – some actors didn’t realize how hard I worked. I spent hours perfecting the Queen’s voice and manners, and was informed of royal developments so that I could refer to them in my speeches.
Like the Queen, I’ve had to curb my public appearances lately – if it weren’t for my arthritis, I’d still be working. I retired in 2014, not long after the Queen appeared with Daniel Craig at the London Olympics. People told me that until her face was revealed, they were waiting for it to be me. I won’t be playing any role in her platinum jubilee party either – I’m glad to watch it on TV like everyone else.
As told to Chris Broughton
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