Radiant, charming, swathed in pearls, furs and feathers, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Duchess of York, consort of King George VI and finally Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was a tough cookie. She was the daughter of a large Scottish aristocratic family with a military ethos and deep Christian beliefs impressed on her by her mother, Lady Strathmore. ‘Well, darling, it’s your duty,’ she was repeatedly told. Aged 14 when the First World War broke out, she nursed and entertained wounded soldiers, sailors and airmen when her Scottish home, Glamis Castle, was turned into a hospital. Cecilia Strathmore, daughter of a clergyman who would have become Duke of Portland had he survived, was the chief influence on her life: ‘[My mother] would say, now darling, you must look at these two houses, we were passing. One was ugly and one was beautiful in her eyes. So we had to learn. This is the beautiful one, you see, and bypass the ugly one.’ And so the young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon developed a helicopter view of life, skimming over ugly reality, seeing only the beautiful.
This was part of her charm, which attracted so many, from kings to butlers, millionaires to unemployed Jarrow shipworkers. She had a host of lifelong friends, including writers and musicians, and in her nineties, the poet Ted Hughes, who shared her love of the countryside and fishing (‘her secret is