Lords of the Drinks

Queen Mother Elizabeth, a Heavy Drinker who Lived to See 101 Years


The Queen Mother Elizabeth in a classic pose as she sips on a glass of wine.

For decades Queen Mother Elizabeth (1900-2002) was without a doubt the most loved part of the British Royal Family. The mother of the United Kingdom’s current queen Elizabeth II became a national icon. She gained sympathy as she ‘made’ her insecure husband George VI a good king, gave people hope in World War II and lost her husband half way her life. After the early death of George VI in 1952 she started her role as Queen Mother, the matriarch of the Royal Family, and lead the British monarchy through many serious crises. Always with a daily intake of at least 8 units of alcohol, according to modern standards she would be labeled as a heavy drinker. Still the Queen Mum lived to see 101.

Even though Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of Lord Glamis Claude Bowes-Lyon, wasn’t exactly working class before she married into the British Royal Family, she gained huge popularity among the people. Mostly because she genuinely seemed to care for the common man, but also  because she showed human signs. Her drinking habbits commonly known and respected.

Her heyday was the time in World War II. As King George and Queen Elizabeth refused to leave London as the German bombs tortured the city, they became national heroes. The book , written by Lady Colin Campbell describes how Elizabeth kept the party going within the palace walls: “She surrounded herself with congenial company, who played charades, Racing Demon and other silly games, or sang songs around the piano, while drinking like fish and generally following her fun-loving lead as she decreed that it was their duty to keep their  spirits up. By this time, Elizabeth had formed a drinking club, as Shawcross confirms in the official biography.”

A little further Lady Colin Campbell writes: “And though  the king was still hardly abstenious, he had cut way back on his consumption. Elizabeth had not. A war might have been raging in the vineyards of France, but she raided the wine cellars of her palaces and castles and floated on a sea of booze, never entirely sober, but never actually drunk either.”

As Queen Mum she had a steady pattern in her alcohol consumption that she held onto till her dying days in 2002. Major Colin Burgess, the personal attendant to the queen, describes this in the book . According to Burgess Elizabeth would start at noon with a cocktail with 1 part gin and 2 parts Dubonnet, topped off with a slice of lemon or orange. The official name  is a Zaza cocktail or a Dubonnet cocktail, but thanks to Elizabeth everyone around the world  now calls it the Queen Mother cocktail.

At lunch the Queen Mum would drink red wine and after the meal  a glass of port. According to Burgess she also insisted that the  people around her joined her. When anyone dared to ask for water, Elizabeth would ask incredulously: “How can you not have wine with your meal?” At 6 in the afternoon it was what the Queen Mother would call ‘Magic Hour’ and she had herself a martini. And at dinner she would drink 2 glasses of Veuve Cliquot, a pink champagne.

While trying to hold tight to this drinking schedule, her duties as queen and later Queen Mother didn’t always allow it. That’s why Elizabeth instructed her staff to hide bottles of gin in hatboxes when she was on the road, so she could have a secret sip whenever she wanted. As the Queen Mum herselfonce said: “I couldn’t get through all my engagements without a little something.”

Another famous anekdote is when Elizabeth at one of her official visits as Queen Mother was surprised by her cheeky host. Instead of being offered tea as usual, she heard “I hear you like gin.” Elizabeth replied immediately: “I hadn’t realized I enjoyed that reputation. But as I do, perhaps you could make it a large one.”

No wonder the English were quite fund of this woman, who reached the impressive age of 101 years. With an estimated alcohol intake of 70 units a week, which would be 10 times the amount of a female heavy drinker in the United States and twice the amount of one in Britain these days. God save the Queen, cheers!

Micky Bumbar

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