For thousands of years the kings and queens of almost every civilization have relied on ‘volunteer’ food tasters to protect them from culinary harm.
Vladimir Putin is thought to employ one – though it did little for Emperor Claudius in 54AD (whether it really was poison or the bad breath of his food taster, Halotus, which did for the Roman ruler, history does not record).
All the more remarkable, then, to learn that Queen Elizabeth, who in her 63 years on the throne has probably eaten more royal meals than most of us have had…well…hot dinners, should not only have revived the ancient practice but to have enjoyed turning the tables.
Speaking ahead of this week’s 90th birthday celebrations, warrant officer John Ross has revealed that the monarch was in the habit of checking the quality of the regiment’s tuck first hand.
Mr Ross, 61, who served for 25 years in the King’s Own Scottish Borders regiment helping to protect the Royal Family on their visits to Balmoral, disclosed:
“The Royal Family were so much fun to work for, they made all the soldiers feel at ease.
“One of Her Majesty’s priorities was looking after the welfare of the soldiers who were responsible for providing support for all events.
“She often tasted our packed lunches to check we were being properly looked after before we went out on hunting or fishing trips. She would come to the kitchen and inspect the sandwiches.
“Most were up to scratch, but if they weren’t, they’d be sent back.”
Mr Ross, from Livingston, Scotland, signed up for military service at the age of just 15, and said he was fortunate enough to dance with Her Majesty at an event in 1991.
He has now contributed an online message of well-wishing that will be collected into a birthday book and presented to the sovereign .
Signatories are invited to purchase bronze Commemorative charity medals, with all profits going to good causes.
More than 500 have so far responded, including the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Thornton, who writes: “I pray you continue in your remarkable work and life and thank you for helping us all understand what duty means”.
Charles Baker from Wilmcote, Warks., lauded the monarch as a “true role model, and a figure of consistency in a difficult and ever-changing world”.
Ella Lyon, 10, from Selsey, West Sussex, added: “Hello your Majesty! Happy birthday! My name is Ella and I really look up to you! You are a great role model! Obviously, because you are the Queen! But really one day I want to be just like you. But I probably won’t be the Queen!”
Katherine Smith from Birmingham addressed her message to “HRH from a fellow horse lover! You are an inspiration to us all. I hope you have a great birthday and keep riding!”, while Corgi-lover Karen Robinson in Cambridge, Ontario sent best wishes from “my lovely girls- Pebbles (Pembroke) and Ava (MLH Dachshund)”.
Words of thanks and support come from the London Symphony Orchestra, soon to be led by conductor Sir Simon Rattle, which recognised the Queen’s “many years of dedication to the LSO, and your life-long service to our country”.
Many of the more poignant tributes come from former members of the military, several of whom, such as Brigadier Gordon Rawlins OBE, and Air Commodore Malcolm White OBE, Chairman, Air Force, Bomber Command Association, have received honours from her.
Group Captain Michael Neville CBE, aide de camp between 2008 and 2010, recalled that as Commanding Officer at Lyneham Royal Air Force “I had the honour of meeting most of your family and I was extremely grateful for their support during the emotionally difficult and challenging events surrounding the repatriations of our fallen servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“However, it was at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in 2009 that will forever remain one of my fondest memories. Much to my surprise my wife and I, along with our two daughters, were chosen,from the many hundreds who were there, to meet you in person. As we were waiting with nervous excitement my daughters were discussing not only what they would say but also if they would be able to say anything at all! But within seconds of meeting you, you had made them feel so relaxed.
“No matter where their lives will take them they will always remember their afternoon with you, our gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Happy Birthday Ma’am”.