A three-part documentary premiering tonight on PBS (check local listings) lets us do more than peek through the keyhole into Queen Elizabeth's private world. In Windsor Castle: A Royal Year, we pull up a gilded chair alongside Her Majesty at lavish parties (with such, um, notable guests as David Hasselhoff), at a wedding and at one of Prince Harry's polo matches.
But what's in it for her? Good PR and a little damage control. The 79-year-old monarch never gives interviews (nor does she in this show), but the cameras reveal her as warm and accessible. We even see her driving herself around town. And while hubby Prince Philip, 84, has a rep "for always putting his foot in his mouth," notes producer Matt Reid, here "we see he's very bright and dynamic."
Still, we had some burning questions about this royal Real World, so we turned to the documentary's producers for answers.
No. 1: Windsor Castle aired in England last year. Did the Brits lap it up?
Like bangers and mash. It was a big hit on the BBC. Says executive producer Adam Kemp: "What viewers truly loved was a look at the community within the castle from the girl who stamps the royal crest on the butter balls to the man who shaves the udders on the queen's cows."
No. 2: The filmmakers claim they had a year of free access. Weren't there any ground rules?
Only Windsor's security system was off-limits. "The royals adamantly let it be known they did not want control, and wisely so," says the program's writer Robert Hardman. "If it emerged that they'd had a hand in editing, the whole thing would have backfired."
No. 3: How much do these people drink, anyway?
"I guess there is a lot of booze in the program, isn't there?" concedes Hardman with a laugh. In one scene, the queen throws a dinner that includes stiff cocktails and five courses of wine. Later, she asks carolers to join her for a drink. But, Hardman says, "Much of it is ritual and an excuse to show off the glassware."
No. 4: Do the queen's maids really unpack the guests' private luggage?
Yes, that's the way it works at Big Momma's house. "It's a grand service laid on with a trowel," Hardman says. "And the queen would get the same treatment if she went elsewhere."
No. 5: Did the royals approve of the final program?
"It is not considered appropriate for them to respond," says Hardman. "But they are selling the DVD in their Windsor Castle gift shop." We'll take that as a yes.