Friday Reads: The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe by Angela Kelly

Judging a book by its cover is one way to select what to read but I have often judged an audio book by its length. Five hours is perfect for a palette cleanser in between longer tomes. Such is the case with this book.  Also recommending this selection was the phrase: “fully endorsed by Queen Elizabeth II.” Lastly, the author narrated her book and while this can sometimes be a drawback, Angela, a Liverpudlian, who is conscientious of her accent, spends some time in the book discussing her desire for elocution lessons. The Queen herself takes on this task and this memorable conversation shows the kind of friendship she enjoyed with Her Majesty. Kelly’s slow and precise storytelling reveal her character in a way nothing else could.

Dressing the queen is, as you can imagine, a time laden and rigorous job. Protocol, tradition, regalia, weather, and every kind of unexpected condition you can imagine, make this job rife with problems to solve. Angela began her position as Personal Assistant and Senior Dresser in 1993 and moved on to increasingly more important and intimate tasks until the Queen’s death in 2022. Working with a battalion of milliners, jewelers, perfectly sighted seamstresses, and other palace staff, she shares various wardrobe stories that are quite charming.

For example, did Her Majesty break in brand new shoes? No, Angela, being the same size broke them in for her. And when a hat was hastily shipped for an occasion without being checked or tailored, Angela unpacked it knowing that it wouldn’t flatter Her Majesty and came up with the brilliant solution for her to wear it backwards. When Prince Philip agreed, the Queen acquiesced and it was a success to everyone but perhaps the milliner. How to clean jewelry at the last minute? Gin and water of course.  According to Angela, one of the Queen’s secret wishes was to have her photograph taken more casually with her hands in her pockets. Angela created an opportunity and designed a dress for this to happen. The Queen’s face says it all.

Unfortunately, I went looking for the back-story on Angela. To no one’s surprise, the new King evicted her from her semi-detached grace-and-favour cottage. There is speculation that Angela was set to write another book about the queen. Perhaps her royally financed new home, not so close to London, came with a signed agreement to say no more.  

After hearing Angela’s story, I can categorically say, this is a job I would not want.  Yet, I found it interesting to hear from someone inside the palace who was given permission to share her story.

Kelly, Angela. (2019). The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe. Harper.

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