To the world, Queen Elizabeth II is a monarch. To her eight (count 'em!) grandchildren, she's simply "Gan-Gan." And just like any other grandmother, she scolds them, plays with them, and celebrates them — even when they're naughty.
So, what's Granny actually like? "She works very hard and she sees her service as important but behind closed doors, she worries and minds an awful lot about the rest of the family. She makes sure everyone is happy and finding their own path in terms of success," Prince William said in .
Body language experts turned to her precise body angles, facial expressions, and subtle gestures for proof. "It's incredible how attentive, hands-on, and engaging she is given the fact that she has a royal rulebook to follow," Susan Constantine, human behavioral expert and author of , tells GoodHousekeeping.com.
This adorable scene with a young Prince William, Prince Harry, Zara Phillips, and Princess Beatrice at the Queen's beloved Balmoral Castle shows the monarch in action.
"This particular instance is striking because she throws her 'royal body bubble' out the window and gets close with her grandkids," Patti Wood, body language expert and author of tells GoodHousekeeping.com. By normal standards, Wood explains that you'd hope to see a grandmother and her grandchildren within 14 inches of one another — and the Queen is coming pretty darn close.
"Normally, we see the Queen in front and a few steps ahead of everyone else but here, she steps back and lets the kids lead the way (around 1:01)," Wood continues. The triangle formation between the Queen, Prince William, and Prince Harry on the horse indicates a sense of equality and togetherness between them — an unusual sighting for the Royal Highness.
When the whole family's together, however, the Queen is very much in charge.
While taking their Christmas photo in 1990, the Her Majesty doesn't let the formality of the occasion take away from her "mama bear" mentality. "The moms — Duchess of York and Princess Diana — step aside and let the Queen take over the parenting role, which is interesting to see," explains Constantine. If you watch closely, you can see the Queen shoo photographers away and put her grandchildren in place.
With eight grandchildren comes eight unique (and special!) relationships. You know what that means: The experts analyzed each pair to get to know the Queen — and our other favorite royals — on a more personal level.
Forty years ago, the birth of Peter Phillips made the Queen a grandmother. And she was understandably excited about it.
Case in point:'
"Her movements such as bending forward and reaching out her hand are purposeful," explains Constantine. "She wants to be connected to the newborn but the royal standards simply hold her back from being as affectionate as she'd like to be." Still, you can see the love written all over her face.
Alas, the quintessential grandmother moment:
This moment between the Queen and Zara, the daughter of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, is rare due to its casual, comfortable manner. "You can sense just how relaxed the two of them are. It's evident that the Queen isn't afraid to show emotional connection despite the public setting," Constantine tells us. There's a deeper level of intimacy between them: "The physical closeness between the two is a type of 'heart intimacy,' which is a telling sign of their close bond," says Wood.
It's no surprise that the future King and Queen Elizabeth have a special relationship. In , the father of three says some of his fondest childhood memories were with his Gan-Gan: "There were moments when she loved the noise and running around house because it brought the house to life and the real family atmosphere alive. There were moments where I think she wanted to smack us on the head and tell the naughty children to go next door."
There's a tremendous sense of pride between the two. "Although this is a formal occasion, you can sense just how proud the Queen is of her grandson [as he] explains his work [with] the Royal Air Force," explains Constantine. It's simple: The monarch is incredibly happy to see the success of her grandchildren and isn't too shy to show it even when there are cameras around.
Is that a kiss for Granny, Harry? Possibly. Whether it's a peck, a whisper, or a friendly greeting, Constantine points out the meaning behind the Queen's not-so-subtle pursed lips. "To feel close to someone and allow the body to completely focus on the moment, people may tightly close their eyes or lips," explains Constantine. "Here, the Queen's pursed lips indicate that she's deep in thought and feeling strong emotion." Maybe her grandson was sweet-talking her after all.
Princess Beatrice of York
She may not be a working royal (a.k.a. she receives no money or police protection from the royal family), but that doesn't change how the Queen treats her granddaughter.
Their smiles say it all: "Beatrice, in particular, has all teeth on deck," Constantine tells us. "Even while putting on her gloves, the Queen is looking directly at her granddaughter and completely engaging in the moment." While Beatrice may look shy or even, disinterested, Constantine assumes it's because there's a time crunch. Ya know, places to go, people to see!
Princess Eugenie of York
Sure, there might be rumored drama between Eugenie's parents and the Queen but clearly that doesn't get in the way of their relationship. "The Queen is very present when she's with her granddaughter," Constantine tells us. "Even more noticeable, Eugenie has her hands drape by her sides, showing that she's relaxed and comfortable around her grandmother."
However, Wood notes that there's a slight level of tension between the two. "Despite her smile, the Queen is blocking off her granddaughter by having her feet crossed and hands covered, she explains. Our guess is that it's due to circumstances specific to the event — hey, horse racing is intense!
Lady Louise Windsor
Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex's teenage daughter is precious in the eyes of the Queen. The look on her face! The touching of the hat!
"While we don't know if the Queen was simply touching Lady Louise's cap or adjusting it, it's still significant that the Queen is touching her granddaughter in such a public arena," Wood tells us. "Even better, her granddaughter is looking up at her with a beaming smile, which I refer to as 'up' body language." In other words, the 14-year-old's body language is bringing up the energy and mood of those around her, including the Queen.
James, Viscount Severn
Since the Queen's youngest grandchild is just 10 years old, there's very few instances where the two have been spotted together in public. At the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, James and his grandmother stood next to each other as they waved the happy couple off.
"James is clearly standing closer to his mother (Sophie, Countess of Wessex) rather than the Queen," says Constantine. "Still, the Queen has her torso turned creating a horseshoe formation between the three of them, which is her way to bring the family closer together." Proof that the discomfort is one-sided — and is totally understandable given the young royal's age.
The Final Verdict
The Queen lights up around her grandchildren. "Their relationship, while different than the idealized concept, may be peculiar to us but it's their normal," explains Wood. "Regardless, there's a genuine joy in her face when she's with her grandchildren and that's all that matters."