“The Queen has personally given Angela her blessing to share their unparalleled bond with the world”, states the blurb to The Other Side of the Coin, the second book from Angela Kelly, The Queen’s one-time dresser who now possesses the lofty title of “Personal Advisor to Her Majesty (jewellery, insignias, and wardrobe).
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe
By Angela Kelly
★★★ star rating
Throughout her life, The Queen has always had a stalwart staff in her immediate and daily circle, with some who become more confidante than servant.
From Crawfie, the governess who was ostracised from royal life for revealing a few charming (unauthorised) anecdotes, through to Bobo McDonald, whose dedicated service to The Queen over 67 years – from nanny to dresser – made her the only person outside the royal family to call Her Majesty, ‘Lilibet’; all the way through to Angela Kelly erstwhile dresser now designer, personal assistant, curator, gatekeeper and general fixer.
This is without a doubt the closest we will get at a sneak peek inside the process of designing, sourcing and curating the dresses, hats and accessories that comprise the Queen’s wardrobe. Whilst it promises “anecdotes’ between the Queen and Kelly, it is the photographs that are the most revealing in this tome. Pictures of the Queen’s colour coded dresses and Angela’s own notes and books recording when and where outfits have been worn abound.
However many authorised books are written about the Queen this is the one that is written by someone who probably spends the most time with the Monarch outside of her immediate family and if you are an avid Royal Watcher it is worth a look for that alone.
Whilst the book features photographs from Kelly’s private collection and chronicles a ‘true and lasting connection’ with The Queen, don’t expect any jaw-dropping revelations.
Kelly’s extreme attention to detail is at pains to describe and anticipate every single possible outcome: Meghan would never have been pictured with that pesky dress label hanging from her dress with Angela in charge. One can only imagine her lying in a dark room with The Queen fanning her with a no-nonsense “Pull yourself together, Angela” at the sight of that.
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There are a handful of behind-the-scenes explanations - the recces ahead of engagements, the light-hearted moments that Angela contrives to make The Queen smile in the midst of a hectic royal tour - but we are never privy to any of the Morton-esque eye-openers of Diana’s days. Not that we expected it from an authorised book.
The raciest it gets is Kelly sharing some photographs of The Queen realising a life-long ambition: of being snapped with her hands in her pockets! If it’s a picture of The Queen draped on her chaise longue, kicking back with a glass of Dubonnet and gin in one hand whilst clutching her pearls in the other, this is not the book for you.
If, on the other hand, you want the inside info on how Angela pulls together the different elements of The Queen’s outfits, from inspiration (a piece of Wedgewood in the Windsor corridors, in case you were wondering) through to sourcing materials and pieces (a scarf gifted to Angela by her sister made it into one of The Queen’s outfits), or the intensely intricate process of recreating Queen Victoria’s christening gown ( sourcing the right lace in Italy and then dyeing it the right shade courtesy of Yorkshire Tea), then the book is scattered with gems; these are literary and real as she documents her responsibility for the royal jewellery 'box' along the way.
It is more worthy of a look at the pictures than a read of the words which rarely veer from an obsequious undertone.
Take a look and get behind the scenes of some “off-duty” moments; there IS a chaise longue picture but even then The Queen is featured with her chunky heeled Raynes, arms firmly crossed and still wearing her hat...
Despite what is clearly a close working and personal relationship (in as much as one can with the Sovereign when not a blood relation), Kelly never uses anything other than the most reverential terms when discussing anything about The Queen throughout the book; it leaves us with an ever present forelock-tugging quality despite The Queen’s claim to her that: 'we could be sisters'.
In what appears to be a move to quieten Angela’s critics inside the Royal Household at the amount of influence and sway she holds with the Monarch, the dresser has been careful to include some testimonials extolling her virtues from those who work with and for her. Evidencing her link to her own family, surprisingly her own grandchildren even make it into the book in similar vein.
Nevertheless, Ms Kelly's meteoric rise in the Royal Household and importance to The Queen is undeniable. With an ever-decreasing circle of friends and confidantes, it is understandable that the 93-year-old monarch has become increasingly reliant on the woman she met just one year before the indomitable Bobo’s demise.
There is no doubt that bond has only strengthened, and she has become ever more indispensable to The Queen with the passing of both Princess Margaret and The Queen Mother. Angela has consolidated her position in The Queen’s inner sanctum for a long while yet.
Indeed, with her expertise in the dark art of royal etiquette, what insignias to wear when, where and why, it is impossible to imagine anyone else with her encyclopaedic knowledge and rigorous record-keeping. It would not be surprising if she were to be on hand, in years to come, to advise the next Queen consort...