Experience: I’ve been a lookalike of the Queen for 50 years

MMy career as the Queen’s lookalike might never have happened if I hadn’t come across an advertisement in the local paper in 1972. Running out of ideas for my husband Ken’s birthday, I read about artist Jane Thornhill’s portrait service and thought, “Why not?”

I loved the finished piece and Jane asked if she could submit it for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. They assumed the painting was of the Queen and contacted Buckingham Palace, who said she had not given a sitting. As the portraits in the exhibition were to be painted from life, Jane was disqualified.

When she arrived at the gallery to collect her work, she was jumped on by reporters. After that, my phone kept ringing – I was interviewed for newspapers, magazines and radio, and an agent said my resemblance to the Queen could be a source of income.

He wasn’t the first person to spot the resemblance. On a trip to Greenwich when I was 11 or 12, a photographer asked if he could use me in some shots, saying, “She looks like Princess Elizabeth.” Later, I attracted crowds, especially abroad, and sometimes had to flee.

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The Queen and I were born just 18 months apart, and as we got older our looks have remained similar – although I’m slightly shorter. At the time the portrait aroused interest, I was in my 40s and my family had moved to a village near Chelmsford. Before having children, I had worked as an au pair and a typist, but I had always wanted to play. I had been in amateur productions, taken elocution lessons and even auditioned for Rada. But the fees were too expensive, and my looks counted against me – no matter what role I took on, I heard audience comments, and sometimes even laughter.

But when the agent approached me, I realized there might be a way to play my resemblance to the Queen in my favor. I signed with an agency that provided models for advertisements. When I appeared in one with a stuffed corgi it caused controversy, with newspapers insisting the image was disrespectful to the Royal Family. But I have always been a staunch Royalist and I respect the Queen – I would never do anything that would reflect badly on the monarch or myself. Over the years, I’ve turned down large sums to pose for Page 3 type photos, and insisted that I never be portrayed as the queen in my appearances. I don’t think anyone else made a living looking like someone famous before – now there’s a whole industry.

Over the next 40 years, I appeared on TV shows, opened supermarkets, assisted magicians and shot commercials all over the world. Bands wanted me for music videos, and I gave away gifts with Liberace and presented a silver record to the band Queen. The only time Ken was impressed was when he met Muhammad Ali, who had requested a photo with me.

Comedians such as Joan Rivers employed me to wave from the royal box when they performed, and I eventually started working as an actor. I’ve worked with Sooty and Roland Rat, and I’m proud to have participated in Blue Peter. I sat when the Spitting Image team modeled their Queen puppet and contributed candid camera type shows and sketches for the Goodies, the Rutles and Spike Milligan, although I did little case of Ali G when he asked me to drop my panties as I got into a limo.

Eventually, Hollywood came calling. Mike Myers was lovely to me when I was working on Austin Powers, even after I mistook him for a crew member. Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley were charming while making Naked Gun. OJ Simpson was rude, though – some actors didn’t realize how hard I worked. I had spent hours perfecting the Queen’s voice and mannerisms, and kept up to date with royal developments so I could reference them in my speeches.

Like the Queen, I’ve had to limit my public appearances recently – if it wasn’t for my arthritis I’d still be working. I retired in 2014 shortly after the Queen appeared with Daniel Craig at the London Olympics. People told me that until his face was revealed, they expected it to be me. I won’t play any part in his platinum jubilee party either – I’m happy to watch it on TV like everyone else.

As said to Chris Broughton

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