Backstairs Billy: The Life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother's Most Devoted Servant
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One of the nation's best kept secrets, life behind the gates of Buckingham Palace is subject to worldwide speculation. In this book Tom Quinn traces the fascinating relationship between the Queen Mother and her most devoted servant.
William Tallon, who died in 2007, was a shopkeeper's son from the Midlands who rose through the ranks to work for the Queen Mother for more than fifty years. Known as "Backstairs Billy," he was charming, amusing, occasionally bitchy—and extremely promiscuous.
Billy adored her and she adored Billy; perhaps because of his high-camp style and outrageous remarks about the well-born equerries, royal press people and advisers, but mostly because he made her gin and tonics just the way she liked them—nine-tenths gin and one-tenth tonic.
Outrageously funny, scandalous, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating, this is the royal family through the eyes of one of its most extroverted servants.
Tom Quinn is the author of many titles including London's Strangest Tales, Cocoa at Midnight: The Real Life Story of My Time as a Housekeeper, and The Cook's Tale: Life Below Stairs as it Really Was. He also writes occasional obituaries for the Times and edits Country Business magazine.
relationship with the Queen Mother. Towards the end of his life, Billy recounted one of his favourites: The Queen Mother was lunching with other members of the family when she happened to mention Prince Philip’s mother, Alice of Battenberg. Another member of the family responded by saying that Alice was a wonderful person, but was also rather obsessive and that her biggest failing was her insistence that she was having a sexual relationship with both Jesus Christ and the Buddha. The Queen
her hands in delight.’ It was at these parties that the royal family could completely relax. One servant recalled HM the Queen, the Queen Mother and Prince Philip at lunch giggling uncontrollably after five minutes of throwing napkins at each other ended when Prince Philip almost fell off his chair. They would also do impersonations or silly voices until they were all laughing. Or they would discuss things in the media that had annoyed them. They would always complain in a light-hearted way,
that it was a terrible mistake that everyone had made such a fuss over Princess Margaret wanting to marry Group Captain Townsend. She thought that if they had been allowed to marry her younger daughter’s life might have been much happier. Billy, however, disliked the way the press increasingly portrayed Margaret as prone to gloom and depression. In fact, according to Billy, for much of the time she enjoyed her life and, like her mother, relished parties, games and laughter. One of Billy’s
sexual predators. I don’t think that was true at all. It was part of Reg’s character to be intensely loyal both in terms of his job and his personal relationships. Billy was always intensely loyal to his employer, the Queen Mother, but he was not so loyal in his personal relationships. Reg was aware that Billy was promiscuous, but he didn’t really mind. He accepted people for what they were to a remarkable degree. I think this is why Reg was famous among staff and royals for his wonderful good
was outraged and not just because he knew that the Queen Mother would always back him against Aird. On this occasion he adopted his usual tactic: he simply stood up, turned on his heel and walked out without a word. He slammed the door. Aird was furious but knew there was nothing he could do – for now. Reporting Billy to the Queen Mother would be worse than useless. There is no doubt that this was one of those occasions, and there were many, when Aird thought Billy should have been sacked or at