Taking a leaf out of my book

Alan Titchmarsh has gone into print about his growing admiration for the Queen – and how she really does know her onions

Alan Titchmarsh, gardener, broadcaster and author of Elizabeth: Her Life, Our Times (BBC Books, £18.99), explains why he will be celebrating the Queen’s 60 years (he’ll be joining the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, along with his family and a very full hamper).

“I first met the Queen in 1985 at the Chelsea Flower Show. We chatted about my garden and she knew her stuff… she knew holly was ilex and made a remark about how small the onions were, which I was a bit upset about but she said she preferred them like that, because when they are big they taste of nothing at all…

“There can be an assumption that if you revere the Queen and the royal family that you somehow put aside all kind of evaluation of them. It is not that – they have their foibles like all of us, but their intentions are incredibly noble and they are immensely hard-working.

Elizabeth: Her Life, Our Times (BBC Books, £18.99)

“It is very easy to be cynical and say they are of no value: go to an event where they are present, and see them interact with people and then watch people come away – it has lifted their day. The royal family are, as one commentator said, in the happiness business.

“I think the Queen gives us a sense of continuity, and in a way she is our ancestry. If we can’t always trace our own family, we can trace the royal family.


Alan’s pick of the paperbacks

The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People, Andrew Marr (Pan, £7.99)

“Suburban the Queen is not. She may spoon her breakfast cereal out of a Tupperware container but her court retains the velvety sheen and scale of Victoria’s.”

Smart, engagingly phrased prose is the signature style of political journalist Marr in his book on the monarch and head of state. Once a confident republican, Marr has over the years become a fully-fledged admirer of the Queen and the pure hard graft she puts into her working life.

Against the backdrop of royal family history, his focus is sharpest on her relationship with her prime ministers, the media and managing the business of being a 21st-century monarch. Throughout it all, Marr says, she has been kind, shrewd and wise.

The young Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, according to this gentle account of her formative years, was “a hard child to spoil, always striving to achieve goals of her own making”.

Rich with princess anecdotes – an early indication of Margaret’s fashion sense, despite the identical dress their father insisted on in an attempt at sibling equanimity; Elizabeth’s habit of “driving her horses” in bed before she slept – Williams’s book weaves the Second World War, vast social change and the royal upheaval of abdication and celebration of coronation into energised, nostalgic storytelling.

Tea at Fortnum & Mason, Recipes: Emma Marsden (Ebury Press, £10)

The bunting is up, the trestles are looking sturdy, but what to do about the brew? If you are agonising over what blends to serve with your smart jubilee fancies, this little helpmate and afternoon-tea cake recipe book will set you straight.

Lapsang souchong should be infused just before the water boils (controversial but true); a hefty two teaspoons of gunpowder tea per person for the required blast; pick spiced and scented blends for tea-breads, rose pouchong with lavender and honey cake, and make sure it is white tea for éclairs and superior Ceylon served black for your egg and cress sarnies. Stirring stuff.

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