When the Governor General of Canada visited Queen Elizabeth II with her family, she did the dishes with the monarch.  Relationships with Canadian federal leaders have been warm and enduring.

In her 60 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has presided over 20 Parliaments in Canada, featuring 11 prime ministers and 11 governors general.

What is it like to work for the Queen? An array of former prime ministers and governors general offer glimpses of working life under Her Majesty’s rule.

Michaëlle Jean

No one tells you when you are named governor general that you might end up doing dishes with the Queen. But this is exactly what happened in early September 2005, as Michaëlle Jean was preparing to take up her new role as the Queen’s representative in Canada.

About three weeks before her formal installation, Jean flew across the Atlantic to spend some time with the Queen at her summer residence, Balmoral Castle. Rather unusually, in terms of protocol and precedence, Jean had asked to make it a family visit; to bring along her husband, filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, and their daughter, Marie-Eden, then 6 years old. There was much fuss and back-and-forth among the protocol people about this business of bringing the whole family. Usually appointees arrive for these visits with only a spouse, if anyone at all.

“We had to negotiate that; it was an ‘adjustment,’” Jean said. In addition, Jean and the family received extensive, detailed instructions on all the protocol minutiae for dealing with that first meeting. “It was pretty heavy.”

So it was a pleasant surprise for Jean to pull up at Balmoral, family in tow, and find the Queen and Prince Philip standing at the front door like any weekend hosts, casually walking out and extending their hands. Philip pulled Marie aside and asked if she wanted a Coca-Cola. Marie said she wasn’t allowed to have this at home. “It’ll just be between you and me,” Philip replied.

Jean realized, then and there, that she could start breathing.

The Queen led the family to their quarters, which happened to be Queen Victoria’s old suite, and showed them how to use the tub, including the fussy new faucets installed after a recent renovation. “She wanted to greet us in her home, herself,” Jean said.

The entire stay, in fact, turned out to be a remarkable glimpse into the warm family life of the royals.

The Queen told Jean that they would be dining at a favourite cottage on the property, about a half-hour’s drive from the castle. And the driver turned out to be none other than the Queen herself, behind the wheel of a new, fully outfitted Range Rover, which clearly was a prized possession. Tearing along the road, with Lafond in front, Jean and Marie in the back seat, the Queen told of how she had learned to take apart car engines in her service as a volunteer mechanic during World War II.

“She drives very fast,” Jean said. “(Yet) she handles the car very well … We got a great sense of her character and her independence.”

Pulling up to the cottage, Jean noticed a man by the barbecue, wearing hunting plaid, who had obviously been given the task of cooking the dinner. While the Queen and the rest of Jean’s family went inside the cottage, Jean wandered over and discovered another surprise — Prince Philip doing barbecue duty. They chatted and Philip gave Jean a bit of advice: compliment the Queen on her salad dressing. Apparently it’s a recipe that Her Majesty invented, and she is quite proud of it.

Walking inside, Jean discovered a hive of kitchen activity. “And who do I see cooking? The Earl of Wessex (Edward, the Queen’s youngest son), cooking the appetizers.”

No staff members were in sight — this was a dinner entirely created by the royals, for their Canadian visitors. It was one family, dining with another. “It was great conversation, fun … no protocol,” Jean said.

It also happened to be Jean’s 48th birthday — a fact she hadn’t disclosed. But a cake was magically produced at the end of dinner, with “21 Forever” written in icing.

And at the end of the dinner, both families gathered up the plates, went into the kitchen and did the dishes.

In addition to the story by former Governor Generals Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson (getting lost in Windsor Castle), and accounts from former prime ministers Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin give a sense of the Queen as a person.

When the Queen is your boss | Susan Delacourt | May 26, 2012 | Toronto Star at http://www.thestar.com/news/world/royals/article/1193874–when-the-queen-is-your-boss.

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