The Queen Mother's Relationship With Her Closest Aide Wasn't What You Would Expect

"When the lights go on in Clarence House, it's show time." This sentence could have easily been a catchphrase for Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who was known in her day for her love of celebration, sense of opulence, and overall joie de vivre. However, according to the royal portrait painter, Richard Stone, the person who most uttered these words was not the elder Elizabeth but her favorite butler, William ("Billy") Tallon. Remembered by his contemporaries as a flamboyant man full of fun and flare, Billy tried to make the Queen Mother's home at Clarence House as joyful a space as possible. After all, as Stone shared in the documentary, "Backstairs Billy," this personable aide was someone for whom the royal household could feel like a stage.

Perhaps because of this butler's passion for the royal household, the Queen Mother took to him. Indeed, those who knew both Elizabeth and Billy claimed that they shared a special bond, based on their beliefs about how to live one's life. In the same documentary, one of William's friends, Bobby Golden, shared, "Queen Elizabeth and Billy got along so well together because they were, in a way, birds of a feather. And, brought up on different sides of the track, but both with the same ideas in life." This sort of synchrony between the Queen Mother and her aide, ultimately, resulted in an unusual friendship, which occasionally transcended barriers like gender and class.

William Tallon made life fun for the Queen Mother

It is no secret that Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother liked to have fun; and, to this day, she is remembered for her love of a good party. As the Queen Mother's former equerry, Major Colin Burgess, once wrote in a piece for the Daily Mail, "What was memorable was her fondness for red wine, particularly heavy clarets, which she loved." This particular passion was perhaps the most apparent at parties, where Burgess claimed, "the social wheels were also lubricated by large amounts of alcohol."

Naturally, though, the Queen Mother did not entertain guests all on her own — she had a sizable staff to help her pull off these lively events. And, in the midst of all the merrymaking, William Tallon was often working hard to try to ensure that the guests were having a good time. Indeed, Billy's job was to make sure that everyone always had something to sip. As the Daily Mail reported, "At the Queen Mother's lunch parties, Tallon would ensure that everyone had an alcoholic drink, and would even pour wine through a guest's fingers if they tried to cover up their glass." 

Billy's over-the-top displays of excess were the kind of gestures that the Queen Mother adored. In the biography, "Backstairs Billy," by Tom Quinn, one of Billy's friends, Noel Kelly, commented on the butler's larger-than-life personality: "He reminded her of the fun and gaiety of the 1920s, which is where she really lived."

The butler was one of Elizabeth's favorite dance partners

William Tallon may have done an excellent job creating a certain atmosphere at Clarence House parties, but that was far from being the only way he expressed his sense of duty towards Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. The butler, in fact, was known to join the elder Elizabeth on the dance floor when she was in the mood to feel the music. Writing for the Daily Mail, Tom Quinn, who authored the biography, "Backstairs Billy," explained just how often Billy and his boss would dance together: "From the mid-Fifties, following the death of George VI, until she finally became too frail 40 years later, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother would insist on waltzing with her page almost every day."

Apparently, the unlikely pair would dance together in different atmospheres, depending on the Queen Mother's mood. Quinn wrote, "Sometimes it was in the privacy of her sitting room at Clarence House, especially after the guests had departed from one of her famously gin-drenched luncheon parties. At other times, it might be at a Balmoral ball, where Billy might be required to join in Scottish country dances."

Interestingly, though, Quinn claimed that Billy did not exactly have the right to refuse a dance with his royal companion. On one occasion, the biographer relayed, "The constant whirling and jigging left [Billy] so exhausted that he slipped away to catch his breath. Prince Charles was despatched to drag him back."

He asked her for advice

Although William Tallon's relationship with Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was filled with fun, the dynamic duo was also known to have a more serious side. Indeed, Billy would occasionally approach the Queen Mother for advice — especially when it came to making decisions about his own social life. This was especially evident in the period after the royal portraitist, Richard Stone, came to Clarence House to paint the Queen Mother's likeness. Speaking in the documentary, "Backstairs Billy," Stone recalled how he asked Billy to be the best man at his wedding. Apparently, the butler was so "stunned" by this invitation that he decided to ask the elder Elizabeth what he should do.

Compellingly, it seems that the Queen Mother encouraged Billy to be a part of the wedding. Stone explained, "I know he shared this invitation that I was extending to him with Queen Elizabeth [The Queen Mother]. And, I think, she too was surprised. And, she said, 'Well, I feel I ought to get him a present.'" 

In the end, Billy took his boss' advice and agreed to be Stone's best man. As a token of her goodwill — and her approval — the Queen Mother sent her butler to the romantic event with a grand gift in hand. In the same documentary, Stone remembered, "On the day, the most beautiful tea set arrived, brought on the train with William with a little engraved note."

The Queen Mother allowed William to be cheeky

The British royal family is famous for following strict protocol that obligates them to behave in a certain way. As a result, many of its members are known as beacons of propriety, who are almost never allowed to break the rules of upper-class society. 

Luckily for William Tallon, however, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was not always one for worshipping the rules. As royal expert, Tom Quinn, explained in a piece for the Daily Mail, Elizabeth often felt that well-behaved people were boring. In Quinn's view, "Though protocol demanded that her own conversation must never be scandalous, [the queen mother] hated guests who stood on ceremony." Because of this, she was often happy when Billy brought a bit of cheekiness to her life. She was even known to bend the rules for her butler, allowing him the rare privilege of taking her photo when she was off-duty.

Interestingly, Quinn claims that Elizabeth's tolerance for Billy and his friends was essentially sky-high. He wrote, "A photo was found in his private album of his long-term boyfriend Reg, another senior servant, drunkenly wearing a tiara. In a second picture, the two men were dancing while wearing the Queen Mum's hats." Apparently, at the time, Elizabeth found out about their antics but did little to punish them. Instead, the royal allegedly declared, "I don't mind you wearing them, but you must put them back where you found them!"

She protected her butler in the face of scandal

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was not just tolerant of William Tallon amid all of his shenanigans — she was also protective of him. Even when the butler accidentally got wrapped up in tabloid drama, the elder Elizabeth remained staunch in her support for the butler. In 1991, the press found out that Billy had a tryst with a young man — and that the incident occurred within palace walls. Unfortunately for the royal aide, the man in question was a former sex worker — a fact which fanned the flames of royal scandal. 

Following the event, many of the Clarence House courtiers felt that Billy's actions had degraded the palace's public image. Many of them were jealous of Billy's close relationship with the boss and were hoping that his fling would be enough to expel him from royal life for good. Any hopes of getting the butler fired, however, were far from realistic.

Even when confronted with Billy's incident, the Queen Mother refused to show any outward sign of disapproval. On the contrary, Elizabeth chose to brush the whole thing aside. Reflecting on the scandal in the documentary, "Backstairs Billy," royal expert, Hugo Vickers, noted that the Queen Mother pretended as if Billy had never gotten involved with that particular fellow. Per Vickers' recollections, Elizabeth simply asked everyone, "Wasn't it nice of him to invite that young man back into the house when it was raining so hard outside?"

William was said to humiliate other staffers in front of the Queen Mother

In many ways, William Tallon's friendship with Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was a story of kindness and mutual respect. However, some former palace staffers have alleged that the duo did not always behave so gracefully when they were together. Chief among these critics was Liam Cullen-Brooks, who went so far as to speak out against the pair's shenanigans in the documentary, "Backstairs Billy." According to Cullen-Brooks, Billy would sometimes try to embarrass younger members of the staff by swooping in and placing dirty cruets on the table after they had worked hard to set everything up. Apparently, when these aides would try to tell the Queen Mother what Billy was up to, "she used to just smile."

The butler and the Queen Mother were also said to giggle about other members of the household, with Billy regularly cracking not-so-subtle jokes about some of his colleagues. In a piece for the Daily Mail, royal expert, Tom Quinn, relayed a story that was told to him by a former servant by the name of Eric Gray: "Billy would often whisper comments about their companions, to her amusement. Seeing a rather stuck-up equerry approaching, the page would mutter, 'Oooh, la-di-bloody-dah, here she comes!' and the disconcerted flunkey would realize they were both laughing at him." These types of jokes, unfortunately, created a toxic environment for many of the servants at Clarence House, leading many courtiers to resent Billy.

William and the Queen Mother seemed to grow old together

Although William Tallon made some royal mistakes, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother valued his company in her old age. Ever since her own husband, King George VI, had passed away in 1952, the elder Elizabeth found that she needed someone to have fun with as the years went on. As royal expert, Tom Quinn, noted in a piece for the Daily Mail, Billy was able to provide his boss with the type of company that she was lacking. Quinn wrote, "This combination of dancing partner and confidant was ideal for the Queen Mother, once she was widowed. There could be no question of her remarrying, but she was a gregarious woman who needed entertainment and activity."

Indeed, even as the years went on, the Queen Mother would laugh and try to have a good time — and her friendship with Billy was said to be one of the key things that kept her spirits high. Per Quinn's account, Elizabeth knew that she was growing old, and would even joke about her age with the butler: "Most often, the dancing bug struck when she and Billy were alone. 'We really are a sprightly pair of old gals, aren't we, William?' she would say. 'Shall we dance out into the mall? Wouldn't that surprise everyone?'" Other times, she would apparently sigh, "We're two old dears, really, aren't we, William? But we've had some fun."

When the Queen Mother's health went south, the duo was separated

Unfortunately, though, William Tallon and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother were not allowed to spend their last days together. This was especially clear when the elder Elizabeth fell ill in the months leading up to her 2002 death. During this trying time, the royal family whisked the Queen Mother away from her haven at Clarence House and took her to the Royal Lodge at Windsor Castle, where they felt she could be better looked after. Billy, sadly, was not allowed to follow her.

In the days that Elizabeth's health disintegrated, her butler continued to run things at her now empty residence. Meanwhile, at Windsor, the Queen Mother received around-the-clock attention from a team of excellent doctors and nurses. Ultimately, this meant that Billy was unable to check in on his longtime boss. And, although she was well looked after by the royal family, the Queen Mother did, ultimately, spend the last months of her life far away from the servants who had cared for her — and even grown to love her. 

Tragically, when she did pass away, nobody notified the team at Clarence House of her death. As reported by The Guardian, Billy only found out about Elizabeth's passing when a journalist phoned him, asking for a statement. The reporter revealed that he was "devastated" by the loss. Apparently, the royal family never thanked Billy for his service.

The Queen Mother's death meant the end of William's career

William Tallon probably believed that he would live out the rest of his days at Clarence House, but that was not the case. When Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother died, the butler lost the only person who had protected him all of those years. As a result, he was promptly fired from his post — along with many of the Queen Mother's servants. Indeed, as a palace spokesperson told The Guardian, "When any member of the royal family dies, their staff, in effect, become redundant." For a number of the Queen Mother's aides, this was, of course, devastating. Per the same report in The Guardian, not all staffers received a pension or even any kind of compensation for their immediate firing.

Billy was understood to have suffered tremendously during this time, as the palace asked him to vacate Gate Lodge — the simple yet private quarters where the Queen Mother had allowed him to live for years. In the documentary, "Backstairs Billy," one of the butler's close friends, Reta Michael, read a letter that Billy had sent her after receiving notice of his impending eviction: "My dear Reta, life is bloody at the moment, and I must move house within the month. The palace and privy purse have behaved appallingly, but what can one do?" In the end, Billy did not resist the royal family's decision and moved away from the palace grounds.

William Tallon remained loyal to the Queen Mother until his death

William Tallon was not exactly thrilled with the way that the palace treated him after Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother passed away. However, that does not mean that Billy lost his sense of loyalty toward his former boss. In the months after he moved out of Gate Lodge, the tabloid press pursued him relentlessly, offering large sums of cash in exchange for intel on the Queen Mother. 

As the page's former neighbor, Arthur Butler, revealed in the documentary "Backstairs Billy," the media harassed Billy almost as if he himself was a celebrity. Butler recalled, "Some of the newspapers made a nuisance of themselves. They would stake out this road and once or twice journalists followed [Billy] when they knew he'd been to a party, um, trying to get him to say something ... They kept up the pressure for quite a long time." That being said, Billy did not crack. Ever the loyal servant, he kept the Queen Mother's secrets to himself — even after he was so mercilessly fired from Clarence House. Speaking to documentary makers, Butler divulged that Billy "was extremely discreet and very loyal and refused [to talk to the tabloids]." 

Perhaps, the reason for Billy's silence was simply that he never stopped caring for his longtime companion. As he told the press on the way to her funeral, Elizabeth was "the most wonderful employer, very compassionate, incredibly kind, very understanding, and I loved her."