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.
Secretary (where he checked the Queen Mother’s arrangements) to Private Secretary, where he double-checked them, as well as looking after travel arrangements, country houses and staffing. It was no secret that Aird disliked Billy, whom he considered a rather dangerous character who was over-familiar with the Queen Mother, but Aird also had to deal with the Queen Mother’s Treasurer, Sir Ralph Anstruther, who, like Gilliat, stayed in post long after a series of strokes had effectively disabled
Queen Mother might find themselves together and entirely alone for long periods. ‘She liked to talk at these times,’ remembered Billy, ‘but far more than talk, she liked to dance.’ It was above all things the pastime she pursued with a real passion and as she had few partners who were deemed suitable, I was often drafted in. And she might decide to dance on a whim when one was least expecting it, perhaps five minutes before her luncheon guests were due to start arriving. She sometimes found
from the local pub and then ring a friend – sometimes a rather grand theatrical friend – and try to get an invitation for his new friends to visit then and there. It was usually the case that the people sitting round expectantly really were new friends – Billy had never set eyes on them before that evening. He would claim on the phone that they were all old friends. ‘He was quite wild about that kind of thing,’ recalled a regular at his local pub, the Dog House. ‘He would get caught up in the
said Billy. ‘If Princess Margaret had asked to be there I could hardly have told her it was an inappropriate thing to do. She made these decisions, as did all the members of the family. I would not have dreamed of telling them what to do.’ Nonetheless, stung by newspaper reports that argued he had behaved very badly, Billy had written to the Queen, who responded with a hand-written letter telling him not to worry in the least. And in the main, Billy did not worry about the decisions he made,
have known he would almost certainly outlive the Queen Mother, yet he enjoyed making enemies among those who, once she was dead, would suddenly have the power to get rid of him. In a conversation a year or two after he retired to Kennington, Billy insisted that he had not deliberately twitted and teased the various equerries. He insisted it was simply that they did not understand the Queen Mother as he did, and as he always put her interests first it didn’t bother him in the slightest if the