Books & Literature

Book Review: Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, by Gyles Brandreth

BIOGRAPHY: A personal account of the life and character of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

A comprehensive account of Queen Elizabeth II’s life and a rare glimpse into her true personality.

Feature image credit: Penguin Books Australia

In 2022, the renowned rule of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, came to an end with her death at the age of 96. A flurry of tributes followed in the form of articles, documentaries, and books, including this latest work from former Member of Parliament Gyles Brandreth.

While many of the books written about Queen Elizabeth — affectionately known by those closest to her as Lilibet — over the years are indeed well-researched, Brandreth has a clear advantage over the majority of authors: he knew the Queen personally. His conversations and interactions with her at numerous points throughout his life have been included in Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait and have also helped Brandreth to uncover the central question of the book: what was Queen Elizabeth really like?

In addition to his conversations with the Queen, Brandreth had numerous interactions with other members of the royal family and people in similar circles. In particular, he had many insightful (and entertaining) conversations with the Queen’s husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. At nearly 570 pages, the book was also brought together by years of meticulous research. By conducting interviews in person, having general conversations with people in the know, and consulting a wide range of primary and secondary sources, the author aims to paint a picture of the real Lilibet, rather than just giving an account of her life.

Given the Queen’s unique role, private personality, and instilled conservative values, the major limitation here is that she never publicly let her guard down enough for anyone outside her closest family (and a select few friends) to know what she was really like. Brandreth acknowledges this at multiple points, but still gathers enough evidence to suggest that she was thoughtful, traditional, good-humoured, and above all, dutiful. The author’s honesty also shines through as he admits that he included material he was specifically asked not to include, such as titbits from certain conversations with those who had private interactions with the Queen. Again, the myriad of accounts all help the reader to get as clear a vision as possible of the Queen behind the crown.

The book is organized into logical chapters that move chronologically through the Queen’s life, for the most part. However, within these chapters, Brandreth jumps back and forth to various points in her life as he explores particular themes, such as her relationship with her husband, with her children, and with her people. At the end, he includes the diary entries he made when he spent time with the Queen in the early 2000s.

There’s a wealth of information here (understandable, given the length of her reign), and most readers won’t be able to retain it all. But you will come away from this book with an understanding of how the Queen presented herself behind the scenes, whether or not that correlated with what she was really like when absolutely no one was around. The text is broken up with a few rare pictures of the Queen and her family, including a photo of the Queen’s father King George VI as a baby (when he was Prince Albert) in the arms of his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. And despite the length of the text, Brandreth manages to hold the reader’s attention until the end.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: December 2022
RRP: $35

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