Backstairs Billy: The Life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother's Most Devoted Servant
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.
abdication in 1936 that led to an extraordinary change in the young royal couple’s life. The young Billy was fascinated by this turbulent history, which was still relatively recent news when he was a young man. It was still the greatest scandal of the age. Meanwhile, as his tiny bedroom walls filled up with grainy black and white photographs and news stories cut from every publication he could lay his hands on, Billy developed what amounted almost to an obsession with the royal family. He would
Mother, to Billy’s delight, responded instantly: ‘But then Alice always was very spiritual.’ The Queen Mother could also be rather dotty herself, although she was never in the least out of control. In later life this occasionally became more pronounced, particularly when she was in Scotland where she tended to lower her guard. According to one servant she once spent half an hour wandering around the corridors at Balmoral with a long trail of loo paper dangling out of the back of her dress and
Typically, it never occurred to her that other people, especially the servants, were not so lucky. When the day finally ended at Clarence House, Billy, dressed as ever in his white tie and tails, would politely open the door to the Queen Mother’s private quarters and, having bowed her in, he would retire to bed. That at least is what appeared to be happening. The Queen Mother knew that Billy might well go up to his room after leaving her; she also knew that on many nights he had no intention of
their jobs automatically. Press enquiries immediately following the death of the Queen Mother produced the following frosty response from a palace spokesman: ‘When any member of the royal family dies their staff, in effect, become redundant.’ In terms of redundancy payments, the lower staff are paid so little that financial recompense is insignificant, while the equerries almost always have private incomes and are not paid anyway. Some of the servants who suddenly find themselves without a job
waving until she was hauled back up into position – by me. And then she carried on as if nothing had happened. She was so absolutely devoted to duty that that was typical of her. Sometimes, of course, she got confused and I saw her once in Clarence House waving regally when only the corgis were around. Billy’s reluctance to tell more negative stories in later life was entirely superficial. It depended on who he was with and in his last years he was definitely more open than he had been in