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This little-known aide was the ‘brother Queen Elizabeth never had’, says IAN LLOYD. He took her to the Odeon, the ABC and trendy West End restaurants – and once

Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s cousin, recalled that following the 1936 Abdication – which resulted in her becoming Heiress Presumptive – Princess Elizabeth had prayed hard for a brother.

A brother who would have been king. 

Elizabeth never, had an actual brother  but one man filled this gap in her life and became her best friend, escort, confidante and protector.

Patrick, 7th Baron Plunket, had the credentials to be yet another chinless aristocrat in the Royal Household, but, as the art historian Roy Strong recalled: ‘he was an immensely beguiling man.’ 

The Queen and aide Lord Plunket at the polo in Windsor, 1957

The Queen and aide Lord Plunket at the polo in Windsor, 1957

Lord Plunket with Princess Margaret at the Epsom Derby in 1958

 Lord Plunket with Princess Margaret at the Epsom Derby in 1958

Tall and handsome, with a military bearing he was hugely charismatic and, according to Strong, was ‘one of the few who could give her a glimpse of the real world outside which he savoured to the full.’ 

One lady in waiting claimed that, ‘he was the only person who could talk to the Queen on equal terms’ and that his premature death at the age of 51 ‘was the greatest tragedy of the Queen’s life.’

Plunket was born in 1923, the son of Irish peer, Terence, 6th Baron Plunket and his wife Dorothé Lewis, who was the illegitimate child of the Hollywood star Fannie Ward (protégé of Cecil B DeMille and dubbed ‘the Eternal Flapper’) and the 7th Marquess of Londonderry.

The Queen’s parents were close friends of ‘Teddy’ and Dorothé Plunket during the 1920s and 30s. In February 1924 the Duchess of York lunched with Dorothé afterwards wrote: ‘I admired her baby.’

The Plunkets were tragically killed in 1938 in a private plane owned by William Randolph Hearst. 

The newspaper magnate had invited them to a party held in their honour and sent his own aircraft to collect them. 

It crashed in thick fog over the skies of California. Patrick was only 14 and a pupil at Eton when he heard the news. He and his younger brothers Robin and Shaun were brought by an aunt who fostered Patrick’s love for the arts.

Queen Elizabeth was devastated by news of the crash and wrote: ‘they both gave so much happiness to so many people…Those dear little boys makes ones heart ache.’

The King and Queen closely followed the lives of three brothers and after Patrick had been to Cambridge and served in the Irish Guards, King George made him a temporary equerry in 1948.

As his cousin, Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart (later Goldsmith) noted: ‘with an immense capacity for fun, combined with instinctive good manners, he quickly became an extremely popular figure at court.’ 

It was at this point that he grew closer to the newly married Princess and the two would go riding together.

It has even been suggested that the King hoped Plunket might marry Princess Margaret, though by then she was already in love with the other royal equerry, Peter Townsend. 

Plunket however was not the marrying kind. Possibly gay or asexual, his name was never linked to that of any woman or man, and with his terrific sense of humour he would have been amused at occasional suggestions in the press that he and the Queen were more than just good friends.

It’s easy to see why rumours persisted since, as Annabel Goldsmith concedes: ‘He adored her from the outset. 

They enjoyed a very special connection. He was the one member of her staff who could talk to her on equal terms. 

There was an openness and honesty between them based on respect, friendship — and a lot of teasing.’ 

He proved to be a useful counterbalance to the Duke of Edinburgh’s more outgoing and less tolerant personality.

The Queen with Lord Plunket, tall man holding hat, as she opened Calder Hall, Cumberland, the world's first full scale atomic power station by switching it into the national electric grid system

The Queen with Lord Plunket, tall man holding hat, as she opened Calder Hall, Cumberland, the world’s first full scale atomic power station by switching it into the national electric grid system

Following the death of the King, he continued as equerry until Elizabeth appointed him Deputy Master of the Household, a role he held from 1954 until his untimely death in 1975.

A man of great artistic flair he was responsible for organising some of the finest parties of the Queen’s reign. 

He even designed the flower arrangements and bought the gifts for the Queen to give to distinguished visitors. 

He had the knack of putting people at ease which was particularly helpful to the Queen who has always been fundamentally shy. 

He was scrupulously polite to his boss, dutifully calling her ‘Ma’am’ at all times, but was so relaxed at royal engagements he was occasionally spotted winking at those he knew, even over the Queen’s shoulder.

His colleague Sir Martin Charteris recalled: ‘he wasn’t a stuffed shirt. He was great fun. He had a wonderful flair for entertaining, but he was also very good at human relations.’

The events he organised ranged from a lunch for US First Lady, Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill in 1962 to the funeral of the Duke of Windsor in 1972 which the Queen wanted to be dignified but muted. 

(Plunket said he could always tell when the ex-king was due to call at the palace during one of his London visits because of the sudden chill in the atmosphere). 

One of his successes was a ball at Windsor Castle for the 70th birthdays of the Queen Mother, the Duke of Gloucester, Earl Mountbatten and the Duke of Beaufort. 

Plunket designed cascades of flowers to decorate the state apartments and had the castle illuminated. The Queen seeing great pyramids of white flowers joked: ‘you must have emptied every greenhouse in Windsor Great Park.’ 

He replied ‘very nearly. There’s a bit left!’ On one occasion he even had a complete tree transported inside and was thrilled to see three crowned heads chatting beneath its branches.

Plunket even diversified the normal formal entertainment by prompting the Queen to host a vast party for people from all branches of the arts and other society figures. 

Held on 24 March 1971 it included the art historian Kenneth Clark, actresses Dame Flora Robson and Nanette Newman, Princess Diana’s future stepmother Raine Dartmouth and Lady Diana Cooper, as well as the Queen’s main dress designers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. 

Next day’s court circular simply mentioned that the Queen had hosted a dinner followed by a reception.

Endearingly, Plunket gave the Queen a glimpse of what a ‘normal’ life is like taking her to the theatre, the cinema and to restaurants, all with the full blessing of Prince Philip.

 It was often on a Monday evening and the two friends would discreetly leave the palace in the Queen’s Rover and head for the Odeon Cinema in King’s Road Chelsea where they would sneak unnoticed into the back of the stalls. 

Later they would stroll across to the Raffles Club for drinks and a light supper before returning to the palace late at night. 

Other times they might go to the ABC cinema on the Fulham Road before walking to the San Frediano restaurant or Spot 3 nearby. 

For the Queen it was the first time she had led a ‘normal’ life in London since she had escaped the confines of the palace to mix with revellers on VE Day.

Plunket was the Queen’s partner at private dances, especially when the Duke of Edinburgh was away. 

Annabel Goldsmith recalls him as the Queen’s ‘great protector.’

If a royal reception was proving heavy going, he was the only person who could possibly have gone up to her and said: ‘Ma’am do you think I ought to close this down…I think you are looking tired.’

Sometimes the two shared a simple supper on trays watching television together when the Duke was on tour or carrying out an evening engagement.

Then there was the fun side. Both shared an irreverent humour. Occasionally courtiers were surprised to see the normally self-controlled monarch with tears of laughter streaming down her face at something Patrick had said. 

Such as the time he claimed to have spotted a sticky bun left over from a palace garden party with a complete set of false teeth embedded in it.

He was occasionally her knight in shining armour. Once shortly before a white tie dinner the Queen found the safe where her tiaras are stored was locked and no one could find the key, so Patrick raced home, retrieved the Plunket tiara and hot-footed it back to the palace. 

He even urged her to purchase a new one, having spotted an ideal royal headpiece in an exhibition.

 ‘Ma’am, I’ve found this absolutely wonderful tiara. You ought to buy it.” he announced excitedly’, only to receive the flattening reply: ‘My dear Patrick, I have 36 tiaras already. What am I going to do with 37.’

He had more luck in advising her on fashion, being one of the few people who could tell her directly to her face what suited her. He once scolded her with ‘you can’t possibly wear shoes like that!’ 

The Queen retorted: ‘well I can’t see what’s wrong with them,’ before adding meekly, ‘If you say so. I mustn’t say any more.’

Courtiers admired Plunket’s ability to be direct with monarch. 

‘He was very easy with the Queen and she was very relaxed with him,’ recalled Martin Charteris, ‘He treated her almost as an equal, certainly as a friend. If you wanted to say something awkward or difficult to Her Majesty you could do it directly through Patrick.’

Oddly she was never annoyed by his manner. His brother Shaun recalled he could be direct: ‘often with a smile, and she would smile back.’

Also on a serious note, Plunket advised the Queen on purchasing works of art. He was Trustee of the Wallace Collection and of the National Art Collection Fund. His own art collection included several Rubenses.

Along with Prince Philip he was responsible for turning the old royal chapel, bombed during World war Two, into the present Queen’s Gallery to display exhibitions from the Royal Collection to the public. 

In his will he left the Queen a seascape by Richard Parkes Bonington that she had admired.

Plunket was also close to other royals, especially Princess Margaret. Along with the Queen he was asked to be a godparent to the princess’s son David, Viscount Linley and they attended his baptism in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace in December 1961.

Patrick developed liver cancer and was eventually admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers. He was kept ignorant of the fact his illness was terminal and believed he might recover. 

Loyal to the last, one evening he struggled from his bed, and headed for Buckingham Palace where he changed into formal clothes and stood, as usual, behind the Queen introducing her to guests at a reception.

He eventually returned to hospital at 2am and in the morning found a note on his breakfast tray bearing the message: ‘Patrick, I am grateful for what you did last night. Yours sincerely Elizabeth R.

Patrick Plunket died ten days later on 28 May 1975 aged 51. The Queen was said to be devastated and agreed that his funeral should be at the Queen’s Chapel.

Annabel Goldsmith remembered the service as ‘heartbreakingly lovely’ and ‘caught a look of deep sadness on the Queen’s face.’ 

In her memoirs Annabel summed up the loss the Queen must have felt. ‘Not only had she lost one of her closest friends but someone who was almost irreplaceable in the royal household.’ 

It was some consolation to the monarch that she had been able reward his years of service by making him a Knight of the Royal Victorian Order shortly before his death.

According to his brother Shaun Plunket, the Queen had a hand in putting together Patrick’s obituary in The Times. ‘She certainly helped. It was quite light.’

Much of it was about his service to the House of Windsor but one paragraph highlights what he himself got back from his association with the Queen and her household. ‘In his service to the monarchy, Patrick found fulfilment. The Royal Family through their love and friendship gave him security and a sense of belonging.’

Patrick Plunket's parents Lord and Lady Plunket, 6th Baron at the races

Patrick Plunket’s parents Lord and Lady Plunket, 6th Baron at the races

Lord Terence Plunket (right), 6th Baron Plunket, with his wife and eldest son Patrick at the Fourth of June Eton celebrations

Lord Terence Plunket (right), 6th Baron Plunket, with his wife and eldest son Patrick at the Fourth of June Eton celebrations

There was one final tribute from the Queen. She agreed to the construction of a wooden pavilion in the Valley Gardens, part of Windsor Great Park.

It would offer a view down an avenue of rhododendron bushes to Virginia Water Lake. It was a place of happy memories for the Queen for it was here she and Patrick walked many times with the royal corgis.

A few months after his death, a member of the household asked the Queen: “have you given some thought to who will replace Patrick Plunket.” 

Her reply was straightforward: ‘No one will ever replace him.’

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