Monarch, Defender of the Faith, great-grandmother, corgi enthusiast.
And sports lover.
Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday at age 96, most often appeared in the news pages, but she also found herself linked with the sporting world, as she was with so much of British culture during her life.
She was not a competitive athlete herself, but she rode horses from the time she was a child, and she inherited the royal stock of horses as an owner from her father. But the queen attended her share of sporting events and was a fixture of the equestrian set, and many of her children and grandchildren spent time on the playing fields.
That Elusive Derby
The queen loved horse racing. As seen in the BBC documentary “Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen,” she watched the first part of the 1991 Epsom Derby on a TV, then hustled out to her box to watch the end through her binoculars. She also seemed to be quite pleased to have won 16 pounds (paid in notes with her face on them, of course).
Despite that windfall, the queen never achieved a fond aim: winning the Derby, perhaps Britain’s biggest race, as an owner. In 1953, just four days after her coronation, she watched Aureole finish second at Epsom Downs, beaten four lengths by Pinza. She never finished so highly again.
Hopes were high in 2011, as Carlton House, carrying her famed purple silks with gold braid and scarlet sleeves, went off as the 5-2 favorite. But he ran third. The queen also had three fifth places over the years.
The queen’s luck was better in other races, and her horses won over 1,800 races in her lifetime, including the Oaks, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas and many other important British races.
Her presence at the Royal Ascot races may be most vivid in memory in part because of her traditional arrival in the royal procession in a carriage pulled by four horses. And she attended the 2007 Kentucky Derby during a visit to the United States.
But the Epsom Derby was a can’t-miss event for her. In her 70-year reign, she failed to attend only three: in 2022 because of ill health, in 1984 to attend ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day in France and in 1956 for a state visit to Sweden.
A Sporty Branch
While many of the queen’s family members participated in sports at various levels, including rugby and polo, it was her daughter and granddaughter who hit the family’s sporting heights. The queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, qualified for the 1976 Olympics in the three-day equestrian event, finishing 24th aboard Goodwill. Anne’s daughter, the queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall, entered the same event in 2012, finishing eighth individually and winning a silver medal in the team event aboard High Kingdom.
Anne’s first husband and Zara’s father, Mark Phillips, was a two-time Olympic medalist in the three-day event. Zara is married to Mike Tindall, a World Cup-winning rugby player who played on the England team for a decade.
A Visit to the Gridiron
The queen attended many events and performances in her long life. She presented the trophy to the winning England team at Wembley Stadium after the 1966 World Cup final. She also gamely filmed a video with Daniel Craig (“Good evening, Mr. Bond” was her line) for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, at which she formally opened the Games.
At pretty much all these events, she managed to look like she was enjoying herself, even if she wasn’t. So it’s hard to say what she really thought of, well, 1950s Atlantic Coast Conference football.
Yes, during her first trip to the United States as queen, Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, attended the North Carolina-Maryland game on Oct. 19, 1957.
The story was front-page news in The Times under the headline, “Elizabeth II Sees a Football Game; Equipped With Blanket and Chrysanthemum.”
Reporting at the time indicated that attending her first football game was at the queen’s own request.
The queen was driven around the field before the game, then took her seat in Byrd Stadium (now Maryland Stadium) in College Park, Md.
While Philip stuck with what was going on the field, the queen often turned around to watch the fans, The Times reported.
No report is available of what the queen thought of the halftime show: “Bare-legged girls wearing large cigarette packages that covered body and head danced as the loudspeaker proclaimed the ‘North Carolina parade of industries,’” The Times said. “Dixie” was also played by the marching band.
After Ted Kershner of Maryland scored an 81-yard touchdown, “the queen burst into a smile and seemed to begin to catch the spirit of the game,” The Times said. Maryland upset North Carolina, 21-7.
Trips to the former colonies often involved appearances at sporting events. In Vancouver in 2002, she dropped a ceremonial puck between Markus Naslund of the Canucks and Mike Ricci of the Sharks before a preseason hockey game. Wayne Gretzky sat with the queen for the game, but she left after the first period — longer, to be honest, than many watch preseason games.
In 1991, President George Bush took Elizabeth to Camden Yards in Baltimore for a baseball game, her first. After meeting Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and three Ripkens, she stayed for two innings.
But Maybe Not Tennis
Despite all those trips to the races and other sports, the queen was an infrequent visitor to one of Britain’s most famous events: Wimbledon.
Elizabeth was the patron of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for 64 years until turning the role over to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, in 2017. But “royal insiders” — quoted in British tabloids, for what that’s worth — as well as some biographers and journalists who cover the royal family have claimed that she disliked the sport.
Generally plenty of other royals, including Prince William, do turn up at Wimbledon to present trophies and enjoy the spectacle. But the queen attended Wimbledon only four times during her reign, most recently in 2010, when she watched the Scotsman Andy Murray win a second-round match. She presented the Englishwoman Virginia Wade the Rosewater Dish after her win in 1977. A Briton hasn’t won that prize since.
Still, even if the queen didn’t love tennis, tennis loved the queen. After her death, tributes poured in from the All England Club (“Her Majesty’s visits to the Championships in 1957, 1962, 1977 and 2010 were special moments in the club’s history”), the tennis tours and Martina Navratilova, among others.
How utterly sad- Queens Elizabeth has died- long live the King…🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) September 8, 2022