Think of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren, and Prince William or Prince Harry will most likely come to mind. But while the monarch clearly loves those two very much, apparently she has a favorite grandchild – and it’s neither of them. The individual in question is actually less prominently in the public eye. There are many members of the royal family who prefer to live life outside of the spotlight, in fact. And the Queen has a particular liking for a younger member of that crowd.
The Queen has more grandchildren and great-grandchildren than you may expect. She has eight of the former, in fact, and six of the latter. Among the grandchildren are William and Harry, of course, along with Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall – both of whom bear no titles – Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
Why don’t Peter and Zara have titles? Well, it’s a complicated situation. In short, as the two of them are the children of a princess – Anne – rather than a prince, royal laws dictate that they don’t automatically receive such an honor. And when the Queen offered to give “courtesy titles” to her daughter’s children, Anne chose to turn them down.
But Peter and Zara don’t appear to bear any ill will towards their mother for that decision – quite the opposite, in fact. In 2015 Zara told The Times, “I’m very lucky that both my parents decided to not use the title, and we grew up and did all the things that gave us the opportunity to do.” Peter even reportedly kept his royal status a secret from the woman he would eventually marry: Autumn Kelly.
That’s right: Autumn apparently only found out that her boyfriend was a member of the British royal family when she spotted him on television. On that occasion, Peter was standing next to someone else she recognized: Prince William, who had just turned 18. Then, when Autumn did some searching on the internet, she had her suspicions confirmed; she was indeed dating a royal.
It should be known, though, that Anne isn’t the only one of the clan to refuse titles for her children. When Harry and his wife Meghan Markle had their first baby, Archie, in 2019, they too decided that the new arrival would have no such official honor. Yes, while Archie could have received the title of Earl of Dumbarton, his parents rejected the opportunity, as they reportedly want their child to have a relatively normal life.
William and Harry are the sons of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, and their father is of course heir to the throne. This means that William, the eldest, will take the throne after him. The other grandchildren of the Queen are very unlikely to ever find themselves in the line of succession, especially since Prince William now has three children of his own.
Those three children, of course, are Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, who were born in 2013, 2015 and 2018, respectively. And William and his wife, Kate Middleton, paid tribute to the Queen when Charlotte was born by making one of her two middle names “Elizabeth.”
But even though they’re being bumped down the list, the daughters of the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, fare best in terms of royal succession. Indeed, Beatrice and Eugenie are eighth and ninth, respectively, in line to the throne. The youngest grandchildren, Louise and James, children of the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, are 12th and 11th. And Peter and Zara, the son and daughter of the Queen’s only daughter, Anne, sit 14th and 17th in line.
However, the world doesn’t see an awful lot of Louise and James. That could be because both are still fairly young, having been born in 2003 and 2007, respectively. It’s been reported, too, that their parents, Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, have aimed to maintain their children’s right to privacy.
Beatrice and Eugenie, on the other hand, are talked about frequently in the British media – and the commentary is not always positive, either. Over the years, in fact, members of the U.K. press have criticized almost everything about them – from their love of foreign holidays right down to their fashion sense.
In October 2018, though, Eugenie and Beatrice used the press to open up about their experiences by giving an interview to Vogue – quite an unusual thing for royals to do. During the conversation, Eugenie said, “Growing up in the media, it’s… interesting. We’ve had some serious grounding from our parents. They’ve had their fair share of terrible media interest, and it makes us stronger.”
Both princesses, meanwhile, have “normal,” non-royal jobs; Beatrice is the vice-president of partnerships and strategy at software firm Afiniti, while Eugenie is an art gallery director. And in the Vogue interview, Beatrice spoke about how she and her sister reconciled their work with their royal duties, saying, “We are the first. We are young women trying to build careers and have personal lives, and we’re also princesses and doing all of this in the public eye.”
So, all in all, the Queen has quite an eclectic group of grandchildren. They consist of full-time royals, royals who have other employment, those who are parents and those who are still children. And if the monarch was asked who was her favorite among them was, she almost certainly wouldn’t say – although she doesn’t give interviews anyway.
Still, it’s not unusual for royals to play favorites with their grandchildren. For instance, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002, reportedly adored Prince Charles more than any of his siblings. And the feeling was mutual; he seemingly got along with her better than he got along with his mother. When Charles divorced Diana, moreover, it was said that the Queen Mother banned Diana’s name from being spoken in her presence.
And it was the Queen Mother who implored her daughter not to send Charles to the remote boarding school Gordonstoun. In 1961 she sent a letter reading, “However good Gordonstoun is, it is miles and miles away, and he might as well be at school abroad… And [it’s] so nice and so important when boys are growing up that you and Philip can see him during school days and keep in touch with what is happening. He would be terribly cut off and lonely in the far north.”
Thankfully, the royal family now seems to be free of such dramas. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Queen’s relationships with her grandchildren. Much is made of her closeness to William and Harry, for instance. She’s taken on a mentor role with William, insiders have often claimed, as he’ll be king one day. In contrast, her relationship with Harry is said to be more casual and fun.
There’s a delightful – though unconfirmed – anecdote about the sort of presents that Harry buys for his grandmother. Apparently, the royals tend to get each other gag gifts at Christmas time, and one year Harry supposedly bought the Queen a shower cap with the words “Ain’t life a b***h” written across it. Far from being offended, though, Harry’s grandmother is said to have thought that the item was hysterical.
In 2012 William also spoke about his relationship with the Queen to ABC. There, he said, “I still think she’s just my grandmother, really. I’m probably a bit of a cheeky grandson, like my brother as well. We both take the mickey a bit too much. But I remember always having a healthy respect for my grandmother.”
And when several of the royal grandchildren were interviewed for the 2016 documentary Our Queen at Ninety, they only had nice things to say. Harry talked about his respect for her as leader of the Commonwealth, saying, “She should be incredibly proud of what she’s led and what she’s achieved and what she’s created amongst a huge amount of people from different ethnic backgrounds, different skin colors, different experiences, different islands – whatever it be. Hats off to her; it’s incredible.”
Meanwhile, William talked about how much of a role model the Queen had been, explaining, “Growing up, having this figurehead, having this stability above me has been incredible. I have been able to explore, understand [and] slightly carve my own path. I greatly appreciate and value that protection.”
And Eugenie chose to speak about what the Queen was like at arguably the monarch’s favorite place: Balmoral in Scotland. The princess said, “I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands. Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs! – and people coming in and out all the time.”
One of those people going to and from Balmoral may be the Queen’s oldest grandchild: Peter Phillips. He’s the one whom the media sometimes refers to as “the Queen’s favorite.” And, in fact, he was the first grandchild she met. Peter was born in 1977 to Anne and her then-husband Mark Phillips.
Despite not having a title, Peter had an extremely happy childhood and enjoyed a very close relationship with his grandmother. He told Good Morning Britain in January 2016, “We had great fun growing up on our holidays, going to stay with her at Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor. And we were incredibly lucky to be able to share a lot of our childhood time with her.”
“She’s such an inspiration – not only to the country but to us as a family,” Peter went on. “You know, her work ethic and her dedication is something that I think the whole family has always inspired to at least get somewhere near.” When one of the interviewers asked what he called the Queen, Peter responded that his name for her was “Granny,” like most people called their grandmother.
William, too, used to call the Queen “Granny” – even if at one time he couldn’t pronounce the word. According to royal correspondent Richard Kay, a visitor once overheard the young William crying out “Gary, Gary” after taking a tumble at Buckingham Palace. Then, when the interloper asked who Gary was, the Queen had to explain that William hadn’t yet grasped the complexities of saying “Granny.”
Peter also revealed that the Queen let her grandchildren have fun when they were young. He said, referring to other relatives, “There was a lot of space for kids to run around in, and it wasn’t just us, it was [William and Harry], Freddie and Ella Windsor and the Gloucesters. So there was quite a gang of us growing up in that age, and it was a lot of fun. We caused quite a bit of mayhem and chaos but fortunately I don’t think we broke too much.”
However, it’s likely the Queen would have forgiven any breakages because she forgave Peter for a major breach of protocol back in 2008. The scandal involved Peter’s wedding to Canadian consultant Autumn Kelly and a £500,000 deal with Hello! magazine that involved photos of both them and the Queen.
Pictures of the wedding – including some of the Queen in attendance – were published in the magazine without her knowledge. She was reportedly cross about it, and politicians jumped to condemn the incident. Labour MP Ian Gibson told The Daily Telegraph, “The British public would expect the Queen to rise above being pictured in the pages of Hello!. She is the Queen, not a footballer’s wife.”
Others went even further in expressing their outrage. A headline from the London Evening Standard announced, “Peter Phillips’ Hello! wedding to Autumn was grasping, vulgar and so damaging to the Queen.” The article continued, referring to the British super-couple David and Victoria Beckham, “It seems almost beyond belief that the Queen’s grandson should have sold the rights to his wedding in a manner we expect from Becks and Posh.”
Furthermore, William and Harry were reportedly angry. For William, the wedding had been the first chance that his girlfriend Kate Middleton had had to meet the Queen, and Peter had soured the occasion somewhat. Harry likewise had a girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who had been photographed there without her knowledge.
But despite all this initial anger, the controversy died down. Regardless of the Queen’s displeasure – and the media could never be sure of the real extent of it, after all – Peter was soon forgiven. And when Peter’s daughter – the Queen’s first great-grandchild – Savannah was born in 2010, the Palace released a statement saying that the Queen was “delighted with the news.”
And Peter would be far from the first grandchild of the Queen’s to cause a royal incident. Famously, Harry was a wild child when he was younger, even going so far as to wear a Nazi uniform to a costume party back in 2005 when he was 20 years old. That incident caught the attention of the entire world at the time, and it left many people appalled.
Meanwhile, in March 2012 Peter and Autumn had another girl, Isla Elizabeth Phillips – with that middle name perhaps again in honor of her great-grandmother. However, the whole Phillips family had begun to shun the spotlight by that point. Sometimes they were snapped in casual situations while out and about, but there were no more magazine deals.
Nonetheless, in 2016 – the year of the Queen’s 90th birthday – Peter did write an article for The Daily Telegraph. The headline described him as “the Queen’s favorite grandson, Peter Phillips.” He would not have written that part, of course, although the rest was all in his own words. Peter wrote, “In this landmark year for [the Queen], I thought it high time her lifetime’s unbroken service was acknowledged.”
Peter had organized an event called “the Patron’s Lunch” in honor of the Queen and her charity work. He wrote in The Daily Telegraph, “I’ve always been very close to my grandmother, and we speak often. She has been an inspirational person throughout my life, so to be able to do something like this for her is an honor.”
Peter went on, “As a child, I would attend charity events with my parents in school holidays, but as I’ve grown older the sheer number of causes of which the Queen is patron has become clear. So, too, has her commitment to every one of them – and that’s an extraordinary achievement.” Indeed, in total, the Queen and Prince Philip actually possess in excess of a thousand patronages among them.
Peter continued on in his article, “It may often go unnoticed, but almost every time the Queen appears in public it is in order to support one of these organizations in her role as patron. And that astonishing work ethic has filtered down to the rest of my family, including her grandchildren.”
But were William and Harry rivals to Peter for the Queen’s affections? Well, it seemed not. Peter had made his cousins joint presidents of the Patron’s Lunch as well. He added, “It is important that the Queen’s charity work is not confined to a single generation. In the future the Princes will take on many of these patronages, just as the Queen inherited a great many of them from her mother, father and sister.”
So there certainly doesn’t seem to be any bad blood between Peter and his more famous cousins. Even the Hello! scandal appears to be in the past for all of them – Prince William invited both Peter and Autumn to his wedding, after all. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what roles Peter takes on going forward, regardless of whether he truly is the Queen’s favorite.