The story that sums up the Queen's indefatigable approach to life

·Royal Correspondent
·3-min read
British Royal Queen Elizabeth II, wearing a headscarf and a waxed jacket, driving a Land Rover Defender at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, held at Windsor Home Park in Windsor, Berkshire, England, 12th May 1989. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
The Queen in a Land Rover Defender at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1989. (Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth II was a record-breaking monarch.

She ruled for longer than any other King or Queen in British history, she travelled the world more extensively than any other ruler, and her marriage to Prince Philip was the longest royal marriage in history.

As well as breaking records, Queen Elizabeth II was not afraid to break boundaries. This is perhaps best summed up by one story in particular, involving the then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The fascinating anecdote, revealed in the memoir of British diplomat Sir Sherard Cowper Coles, told the story of how The Queen ‘terrorised’ the Prince by taking him on a hair-raising drive through the grounds of Balmoral – quite the shock for the ruler of a country where women were not permitted to drive.

“You are not supposed to repeat what the Queen says in private conversation,” wrote Sir Cowper-Coles.

“But the story she told me on that occasion was one that I was also to hear later from its subject - Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia - and it is too funny not to repeat.”

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) shows King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia,  Saudi Arabian items from the Royal Collection in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace, in London, 30 October 2007. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah received a lavish welcome from Queen Elizabeth II Tuesday as he started a state visit amid angry protests and headlines after accusing Britain of anti-terrorism failures. The queen, alongside her husband Prince Philip and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, formally welcomed the king at Horse Guards Parade in central London, where he inspected an honour guard in bearskin hats. AFP PHOTO/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/WPA POOL (Photo credit should read AKIRA SUEMORI/AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 2007. (Getty)
British envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Sherard Cowper-Coles arrives at the Foreign Ministry for a meeting in Islamabad on April 24, 2009. Taliban fighters on April 24 began evacuating a Pakistan district where the government deployed extra forces under US pressure to stop hardliners advancing closer to the capital, officials said.   AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images)
British envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Sherard Cowper-Coles (AFP/Getty).

In 2003 Prince Abdullah, who was the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia following his brother King Fahd’s stroke, was invited to visit Balmoral and have lunch with the Queen - who was 77 years old.

Sir Cowper-Coles remembers: “After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate.

“Prompted by his Foreign Minister, the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah agreed.

“The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle.

A group photograph of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (right) with Queen Elizabeth II (left) and The Duke of Edinburgh (centre) before the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in London after the first day of the Saudi Kings visit.   (Photo by John Stillwell - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with the Queen before the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace. (Getty Images)

“As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind.

“To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off.

“Women are not - yet - allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.

“His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time.

“Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.”

Perhaps the Prince was unaware that The Queen was trained to drive ambulances and work as a truck mechanic during the Second World War, meaning he was clearly in capable hands the entire time.

It is not the only time the Queen's driving skills have been fondly remembered.

In a speech paying tribute to the Queen on Friday, Boris Johnson sparked laughter in the House of Commons with a similar recollection.

He said: “Unlike us politicians, with our outriders and our armour-plated convoys, I can tell you as a direct eye witness that she drove herself in her own car with no detectives and no bodyguard, bouncing at alarming speed over the Scottish landscape to the total amazement of the ramblers and the tourists we encountered.”