Sir John Major has spoken fondly of his memories of working with the Queen, describing her service to the country as “impeccable” and suggesting she would have made a good addition to the Cabinet.
The former prime minister, who served from 1990 to 1997, said the monarch “has represented our best selves for over 70 years”, which he says partly explains his popularity.
He said his weekly meetings with the Queen during his time as Prime Minister were not a “duty”, but “something to look forward to”.
“In many ways it was cathartic,” he said.
“You could discuss things with the Queen that you couldn’t really discuss with almost anyone else. Politics, even among the closest colleagues, tends (to be)… a bit elusive.
“The only thing about meetings with the Queen (was) nobody is there, just the corgis – behaving or not as the case may be, generally behaving – and you could talk privately. There is no private secretary there. No notes are taken.
“You can say exactly what you want, exactly what you think. And the queen too. So it’s very valuable.
He said she was a good listener, but “more relevant”, a “good questioner”.
“Gently, she asks the right questions,” he says.
“I think people would be surprised at the depth of his knowledge of how people who are not close to the monarchy actually live in their own lives.
“She knows a lot and her questions are often very, very relevant. It was still extremely helpful, because it was a completely outside perspective from someone who knew politics, who had looked at state newspapers for 28 years.
Sir John said he often returned from his meetings with the monarch thinking “what a shame she’s not in Cabinet”.
He added: “But I have to tell you that I’m not sure she shared that view. But I think not sharing the view is another example of her wisdom.
The former Prime Minister described the Queen as a ‘hidden asset’.
“She is part of our soft power. You just have to see that whenever you see her with presidents or prime ministers of other countries. You saw it recently at the G7. You see it in spades at the Commonwealth conference,” he said.
“You see the global reach of the monarchy. When people in almost every part of the world, almost every part of the world, talk about the queen, they mean our queen.
Sir John reflected on the Queen’s ability to “put things in a box, to realize that they pass and they are not eternal”.
“She is, among other things, a stoic. And I think in difficult times, his instinct was to put his head down and keep going,” he said.
“And that too will pass – I think – was his motto. And no matter what, the daffodils will be here next spring.
When asked how he thinks the monarch has maintained her popularity over her 70-year reign, he replied: “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
He added: “I mean, I can’t think of any other public figure, any other celebrity, any other president, if we had a political president, who could have remained so popular – and after 70 years the country would be in party, celebrating the fact that they’ve been around for 70 years. It’s pretty unique.
“I think there are several reasons for that. The monarchy has evolved. It’s immensely different from the monarchy of 1952. Much more open, much more informal.
“And for those 70 years, the Queen has effectively been the vessel of state as we go through all that has happened.
“And also, of course, she is very familiar to everyone. Her life has been in public – the highs, the lows, the good times, the not so good – and yet, through it all, the Queen has represented our best selves for over 70 years.
“And I think those are some of the reasons for his popularity. There are more of course, but I think it’s fundamental.
He said the Queen’s service to the nation had been “impeccable”.