The Queen’s Knickers

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Bestselling kids’ book has a special place in Jubilee celebrations

When the Queen visited a nursery school last winter near her Sandringham estate as part of her diamond anniversary activities, the giddy 3- and 4-year-old pupils had a surprise for her: they hung up hand-made replicas of her underwear for a display called ‘The Royal Laundry’.

“Oh,” the amused monarch commented, “they’re doing the washing.”

This sort of cheeky display might have earned you a stay in the Tower of London a few centuries ago, but in today’s Britain the subject of Her Majesty’s bloomers is standard chatter among commoners from age 3 to 93.

So much so, in fact, that when HRH steps out this weekend for her Diamond Jubilee festivities, a lot of onlookers will be wondering: What’s she wearing under there? The ‘At Home‘ briefs printed with corgis? Or the Union Jack pair reserved for foreign visits? Or, more likely, the VIP — Her Majesty’s Very Important Pair of panties?

She can thank Brighton author-illustrator Nicholas Allan for all the naughty speculation. This year marks not only the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, it’s also the 20th anniversary of Allan’s groundbreaking children’s book, The Queen’s Knickers.

Aimed at the pre-school crowd, The Queen’s Knickers is a slightly silly (and fictional) exploration of HRH’s large underwear collection, which includes specific pieces for particular occasions — the woollen Balmoral set for chilly days, the floral Garden Party pair, and the Horse Riding set with extra bum-padding … to name just a few.

The Queen has a special bureau to store her undies and a maid named Dilys to manage the royal lingerie. The story takes on added importance when the Queen’s knickers trunk goes missing and a little girl is called upon to help find it.

People who don’t live in Commonwealth countries, and thus aren’t subjects of the realm, might have a hard time appreciating the appeal of such a yarn. And let’s face it, the story wouldn’t translate well in other cultures: can you imagine a kids’ book on Michelle Obama‘s undies, or one about Silvio Berlusconi‘s thong collection?

In the UK, however, the enduring appeal of The Queen’s Knickers reveals a lot about the Brits: both their fascination with (and adoration of) the royal family, and their sly and subversive sense of humour. No culture in world history has spent so much time, and had so many laughs, making fun of their own underwear.

The Queen’s Knickers, which was reprinted this year to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee, has also provided an important public service by humanizing the Queen for young readers and showing the workings of the royal household to be a lot more than just pomp and ceremony. Besides, it’s hard not to love a monarch who supposedly wears knickers imprinted with images of her favorite dogs.

(Author Allan has built a successful career by reducing stuffy or taboo subjects to giggle-worthy yarns. He’s done kids’ books about a giant toilet paper roll, an adventurous sperm named Willy, a princess with a big bum, and what Santa does when he needs to pee.)

And the impact of The Queen’s Knickers goes far beyond the printed page, as Her Majesty learned during her school visit in February.

Allan does occasional school visits, where children are invited to draw and display their own “queen’s knickers” and, to help celebrate Jubilee year, publisher Random House is encouraging British schoolchildren to create underwear-themed bunting to hang from school windows, front porches and anywhere else the Queen might see it during this weekend’s pageant. (Here’s a link with instructions.)

Seeing her subjects have so much fun tittering about her undies is probably not the Queen’s preferred legacy after 60 years on the throne. But The Queen’s Knickers, and the genial tolerance that Her Majesty has shown when confronted with the story, also reminds us of one of her most endearing qualities: she loves nothing more than giving her subjects something to smile about.

To learn more about how UK lingerie labels are celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, read Richard’s article on Lingerie Talk.

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