It’s Queen Elizabeth as you’ve never heard her.
Speaking with surprising candor, the 91-year-old monarch opens up for the first time about the behind-the-scenes details of her 1953 coronation – including the nearly 3-lb. crown that she needed to balance atop her head for the historic occasion.
“You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break — it would fall off,” she says in The Coronation, a new documentary airing on Smithsonian Channel at 8 p.m. on January 14. (It is airing in the U.K. on BBC One.) “So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”
Inspecting the pearls on the Imperial State Crown, which she wore to leave Westminster Abbey and has worn regularly for ceremonials like the State Opening of Parliament, she tells Crown Jewels expert Alastair Bruce that the pearls were “meant to be Queen Elizabeth’s earrings,” she says. “But they’re not very happy now. They don’t look very happy now. Most pearls like to be sort of living creatures, so they’ve just been out, hanging out here for years. It’s rather sad. So they don’t look very happy.”
The Queen was 27 at the time of her coronation and the mother of two young children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. The kids are captured in private footage used in the documentary, where they can be seen slipping under the train of the Queen’s heavy gown when the party arrived back at Buckingham Palace.
“Such fun for the children,” Bruce says, to which the Queen replies firmly, “Not what they’re meant to do.”
In her 91 years, the Queen has never given a single interview, per se, and Bruce and the producers call her comments in the new documentary “a conversation.” She opens up about both the intricate Imperial State Crown, and, for the first time since her Coronation nearly 65 years ago, the even-weightier 4-lb., 12-oz. St. Edward Crown that she wore for the ceremony itself.
Watching archival footage in the new film, the Queen also reveals how her heavily embroidered gown – decorated with pearls and gold-and- silver bullion thread – and the thick carpet combined to hold her back.
“I remember one moment when I was going against the pile of the carpet and I couldn’t move at all,” she says.
After the ceremony, the Queen went for a four-to-five mile ride “half way around London,” she recalls – a trip that was “not very comfortable” in the four-ton Gold State Coach. She adds, “It can only go at a walking pace. The horses couldn’t possibly go any faster.”
The height of the Imperial Crown was slightly lowered for her after the death of her father, King George VI, but it remained the same diameter.
“Fortunately, my father and I have about the same sort of shaped head,” she says. “But once you put it on, it stays. I mean it just remains on.”
The magnificent crown features a semi-precious ruby that was mined in Afghanistan and had a hole drilled into it for King Henry V to insert a triumphant feather.
“Well, the idea that his plume was put into the stone, for his, on his helmet, ” the Queen explains matter-of-factly. “Rash, but that was the sort of thing they did, I suppose, in those days.”