Queen Elizabeth caught making rare unguarded comment: Chinese officials ‘very rude’
During a rainy garden party in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, a rather un-British turn of events took place: Queen Elizabeth II was caught on camera describing Chinese officials as “very rude.”
The comments were uncharacteristically candid for a monarch who has spent her 63-year reign keeping her personal opinions secret.
“There hasn’t been a precedent for this in over 63 years,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said.
“It’s one of the hallmarks of the queen’s reign that you don’t know what she thinks, you don’t know what she feels.… The monarch is above politics. This is the first time the queen has made an unguarded comment and I’m sure it will be the last.”
Her remark gives a rare insight into the tensions that were simmering beneath the surface during President Xi Jinping’s state visit in October, when red carpets and horse-drawn carriages were rolled out, lavish banquets were held and $46-billion trade deals were struck.
The four-day visit had been publicly touted as a huge success by Britain and China, and Prime Minister David Cameron hailed this as a “golden era” for Chinese-British relations.
Those sentiments were swiftly reiterated Wednesday after the queen’s unguarded remarks made headlines.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond admitted to reporters during an official visit to Gibraltar that things “got a bit stressful on both sides,” but emphasized that overall it was a “highly successful” trip.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman echoed that sentiment in a daily press conference in Beijing -- but the queen’s comments were blocked online by the Communist country’s censors.
The queen made the controversial remark during her first summer garden party of the year, during which she traditionally greets guests and invites them to have tea and sandwiches. She was introduced to Metropolitan Police Commander Lucy D’Orsi, who had been in charge of security during the Chinese state visit.
“Oh, bad luck,” the monarch is heard saying.
D’Orsi said she was not sure if the queen knew, but it had been a “testing time.”
“I did,” Elizabeth responded.
They went on to discuss a previously unknown incident where the Chinese had walked out of a meeting with British Ambassador Barbara Woodward.
“They were very rude to the ambassador,” The queen said.
“They were … it was very rude and undiplomatic,” D’Orsi responded.
The event was recorded by a palace-vetted cameraman who shared the footage with British broadcasters as part of a pool arrangement. Two reporters standing nearby did not hear her comments, but they were clearly audible on the recording.
The queen’s candidness has left some royal experts questioning whether the slip-up was entirely unwelcome. “She must have known what was going on,” said Ingrid Seward, author of “The Queen’s Speech.” “I can’t think it was a mistake…. I assume that she felt extremely strongly that the Chinese treated her ambassador badly.”
“I know she hates rudeness,” Seward added.
The 90-year-old monarch has rarely made her political opinions public, unlike her husband, Prince Philip, who is well known for his off-the-cuff remarks. During an official trip to China in 1986, he famously told a group of British exchange students that if they remained in the country too much longer they would “all be slitty-eyed.”
The queen wasn’t the only one caught speaking her mind Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the prime minister was also overheard describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt countries” on the eve of a major anti-corruption conference in London.
“We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain,” he was heard saying in the presence of the archbishop of Canterbury, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and the queen during an event to mark her 90th birthday. “Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
On Wednesday, Cameron backpedaled significantly to say Nigeria and Afghanistan have taken “remarkable stops forward” on corruption.
Boyle is a special correspondent.
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