When Backstairs Billy premieres at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End, audiences can expect a comical take on the relationship between the Queen Mother and her devoted page, William Tallon. Set in 1979, amidst political turmoil and strikes across Britain, the play offers a wry look at the opulence within Clarence House, where champagne flowed freely despite the chaos outside.
While the Queen Mother's reign may seem distant, she upheld a way of life reminiscent of the Edwardian era. Unlike the current monarch, who often grabs a quick sandwich at his desk, the Queen Mother enjoyed elaborate meals that featured multiple courses and an abundance of drinks. Tallon, a skilled bartender, was dubbed a "wizard with a drink" and ensured that the Queen Mother's glass was always full.
Tallon's role extended beyond serving drinks; he was also responsible for keeping the Queen Mother's guests comfortable and happy before her arrival. Once she made her grand entrance, Tallon faded into the background as the Queen Mother entertained her esteemed guests from the arts, music, and museums. Her mission was to create a joyful and memorable experience for anyone who came into contact with her.
The Queen Mother's extravagant lifestyle extended to her other residences as well. From magnificent tea services to sumptuous dinners, every occasion was treated with grandeur. Even her annual visits to Walmer Castle and Windsor Castle were marked by meticulous planning and exquisite outfits. Scotland offered a different setting, with Birkhall providing fishing excursions and the Castle of Mey offering a remote coastal escape.
Despite her reputation for extravagance, the Queen Mother was more pragmatic than commonly believed. While she enjoyed a bit of splendor on display, she was known to keep worn carpets and even tolerated minor damages to her furniture. However, when necessary, she did not hesitate to invest in maintenance and repairs.
Backstairs Billy gives audiences a glimpse into the rarified world of the Queen Mother, with a focus on her trusted companion, Billy Tallon. Although the play adds a comedic twist to their relationship, it pays homage to a lasting friendship that lasted half a century. Though Tallon could enter her rooms unannounced and was relied upon by the Queen Mother, he never once took a seat in her presence.