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Queen's Balmoral test saw Princess Di pass but Thatcher and Cherie Blair fail


It is an initiation ceremony unlike any other.

Princess Diana is said to have passed it with flying colours but Cherie Blair is reported to have failed after causing offence by, among other things, her choice of clothes.

Now the hospitality offered by the Queen to visitors at Balmoral Castle is set to come under the spotlight in the new series of The Crown.

Episode four of the hit drama’s latest season – which launches next month – is titled The Balmoral Test.

Princess Diana passed the Balmoral test with flying colours on her first visit with Prince Charles

The “test” is the name given to the royal scrutiny guests to the Queen’s Aberdeenshire home believe they are under when invited to join her on her annual break at Balmoral.

Former royal butler Grant Harrold worked for the Royal Family for seven years and met many guests of the Queen.

Grant, 42, who grew up in Airdrie and has worked for Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry, said: “Balmoral, like Sandringham, is the Queen’s private family home.

“If she invites you to Balmoral, then you are being invited to spend time with the Royal Family in a personal setting.

“You are going to be dining with the Queen – lunch, dinner, perhaps a picnic or even a barbecue.

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown

“You are going to be out on the hills with the Queen or other members of the Royal Family, perhaps fishing, hunting or doing other country pursuits.

“Balmoral is a great place to be around the Royal Family and for them to get to know you.

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“It can be a bit of a test to make sure you pass the muster.

“You are going to want to dress the part, speak the part and behave the part.

The Queen on horseback looking towards Balmoral Castle in September 1971

“For Princess Diana, that was easy. She came from a similar background but that’s not true of all the
guests who are invited to Balmoral.

“It can be terrifying for anyone to spend a few days with the people who are going to be your in-laws regardless of who they are, let alone one of them being the Queen”

Episode four of the new Netflix series is dedicated to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s failure to master royal protocol.

The Iron Lady, played by actress Gillian Anderson, had a complicated and often tense relationship with the monarch.

She is said to have viewed early visits to Balmoral as comparable to “purgatory”.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife at the Braemar Gathering in 2000 but Cherie Blair flunked the Balmoral test

The episode also features the first visit by Princess Diana to stay with the Royal Family at Balmoral. Unlike Thatcher, Diana, played in The Crown by Emma Corin, had grown up mixing in royal circles – her peer father served as an equerry to both the Queen and king George VI.

But Grant said the Monarch always goes out of her way to make everyone invited to stay at Balmoral feel welcome.

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher failed to master royal protocol at Balmoral

He said: “I started working for Prince Charles in 2004 and a couple of days later was sent to Scotland so my introduction to the royal household was at Balmoral – at Birkhall. That was my Balmoral test.

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“It was nerve-wracking even for me as a member of staff because you are around the royals there all the time, even when off duty – and can bump into them anywhere.

“I was off one afternoon and was on a horse out in the hills and my horse started to react to something at its feet.

Cherie Blair

The wife of ex-PM Tony struggled to connect with some of the royals.

In her autobiography, she wrote: “While the Queen is very approachable, I can’t say the same about Princess Margaret.

“At one point, Princess Anne came over and said something that included, ‘Mrs Blair.’ ‘Oh. Please call me Cherie,’ I said. She replied, ‘I’d rather not.’”

She also fell foul of the queen mother, who was
“mortified” by the lawyer’s trousers.

Cherie fell pregnant with her son Leo at Balmoral in 1999. She left her contraceptive behind “out of embarrassment” as on a previous trip all her belongings had been unpacked for her, including her toilet bag.

Margaret Thatcher

The then prime minister is reported to have considered her trips to Balmoral a “tedious waste of time” from which she “couldn’t get away fast enough”.

She regularly had to borrow wellies after turning up with just high heels.

On her first visit, she was left stunned at a royal barbecue to see the Queen doing the washing up.

Royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell said: “Mrs Thatcher bought her rubber gloves and sent them to her, which is rather sweet.”

Sarah Ferguson

Prince Andrew’s former wife was at Balmoral when in 1992 photos were published showing her having her toes sucked by then lover John Bryan in the south of France.

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In her 1996 autobiography, the duchess described the breakfast at Balmoral when her in-laws found out about the scandal. She said: “The Queen was furious.”

The royal couple, who had separated earlier that year, have remained close and in recent years Fergie has once again become a regular guest at Balmoral.

Boris Johnson

The Queen was reported to be lef “uncomfortable” after Carrie Symonds stayed overnight at Balmoral with Johnson in 2019 because they weren’t married. Royal protocol usually bans unwed couples from staying
overnight at the Queen’s residences.

Meghan Markle

The actress passed the test after Prince Harry introduced her to the Queen at her Scottish retreat in September 2017.

The Queen was reported to be “hurt and disappointed” after Harry and Meghan turned down her invitation to Balmoral last summer.

They missed the trip again this year amid coronavirus fears.

“I realised it was a corgi and looked up to see the Queen, complete with headscarf.

“I just said, ‘Good afternoon, Ma’am,’ and she wished me a good afternoon, then off she disappeared.

“Not long later I was at the Ghillie’s ball and danced with the Duchess of Cornwall, before then finding myself dancing a reel alongside Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh, and doing a jig with the Queen. That’s Balmoral for you.

“The Queen is not someone who likes to put people on the spot. She always wants her guests to relax and be comfortable.

“What makes an invitation to Balmoral so special is that, unlike Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, it’s a private residence.”

Grant, who runs his own company offering etiquette courses, said his advice for those invited as a guest of the Queen is always the same.

He added: “Find out what you need to bring, know the dress code – don’t turn up with pink fluffy wellies when everyone else will be wearing Hunters – and know the social etiquette.

“Be on time – never keep the Queen waiting. Follow the lead of the Royal Family and always be nice to the dogs.”





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