The Queen, the Marshal and the diplomatic pooch

Sir Anthony and Lady Figgis with their “ghosts”

Those who have had the privilege of working with the Queen will tell you that despite her status, she does not stand on ceremony… especially when it comes to horses and dogs, as her former Marshal, Sir Anthony Figgis, explains…

“My main challenge as Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps was dogs. Not Her Majesty’s dogs, although an Arab Ambassador did once express “surprise” (strong diplomatic language) that corgis had been present at a lunch at Buckingham Palace [dogs are considered ritually unclean in the Islamic faith].

It was my own two terriers, and a third terrier which ruled the life of my executive secretary Laura Howard, which caused the difficulty.

At that time, the dog policy of the Palace was permissive – I hope it still is. Gone are the days when dogs, except guide dogs, were allowed in government offices. But the Palace, luckily, is not a government office. So all three terriers came to our offices every day.

And behaved beautifully, give or take the odd bark. When a new Ambassador arrived to be briefed, all three would be shut in Laura’s office next door, while she organised the coffee. Sometimes, just sometimes, the connecting door would be rattled. I had two standard explanations: the dogs, or (for Muslim Ambassadors) a ghost.

Both explanations were always politely accepted. But just sometimes, the ghost would subsequently bark. Once, an Arab Ambassador rose in alarm from his chair and insisted on completing his briefing in the waiting-room outside. However, he came to terms with the experience: he told me next time I met him that he now understood the expression “barking mad”.