The Queen, The Queen Mother, Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor and Quentin Crisp.

Royal trainer Ian Balding with Colin and the Queen

The Queen, and The Queen Mother.

I had the great privilege, through my job as racing correspondent for the Daily Mail to rub shoulders with the Queen and the Queen Mother. My wife Linda and I had a ten minute chat with the Queen Mother in the dining room of the Ascot racecourse Trustees. She was 91 and yet very aware of everything. For example she blocked the entreaties of a Channel Four executive who was begging her to use her influence to ditch the BBC contract at Ascot in favour of his employers. No joy. She and discussed how expensive it is to have racehorses in training.

Mrs Thatcher.

I met Mrs Thatcher several times in late 1969 and early 1970 when she was Shadow Education Minister. She was full of energy and mastered her brief very quickly. She was ante comprehensive schools, having herself been educated at a selective Grammar school in Grantham, Lincs. She found me and my fellow education correspondents very left wing in our views. There was one exception – the Daily Mail’s Rod Tyler who formed a friendship which resulted in his writing an acclaimed biography of the Iron Lady.

Elizabeth & Richard.

I was fortunate to meet Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton a couple of times. On the first occasion they were playing Dr Faustus at the New Theatre, Oxford in 1966. My wife and I sat down at a post performance party in the Randolph hotel and Burton came to join us because his best friends from Wales were talking to us. We had a whole evening with him and he promised me an interview at their hotel the following morning. Burton was as good as his word, sat down in the Bear, Woodstock, with a bottle of vodka while I had a coffee and croissants. Two years later I was at the Tower of London when they moored a huge yacht beside Traitors’ Gate. They had chartered the yacht so that Elizabeth could bring her pet dogs with her – otherwise they would have had to be quarantined!

Quentin Crisp.

The Naked Civil Servant, aka Quentin Crisp, was a regular lunchtime visitor at our Battersea home on Sundays in the early 1980s. He would come over from Chelsea with his friend Peter York, the man who created the Sloane Ranger phenomenon. It was like inviting Oscar Wilde to your home. He was excruciatingly funny with put downs which had everyone in stitches of laughter. He would never use your first names – we were always Mr and Mrs Mackenzie. His principal advice was not to bother with a cleaner – “My dears,” he would say. “The dirt gets no worse after three years without one.”


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