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A Royal Off Duty: Queen Elizabeth II's Hobbies in Photographs

A Royal Off Duty: Queen Elizabeth II’s Hobbies in Photographs

When the monarch isn’t meeting heads of state, she keeps busy with horses, dogs, and gardening. Here’s a look at some of the Queen’s favorite activities. 

If there’s one word that describes Queen Elizabeth II, it’s formidable. Since acceding to the throne of England at age 25 in 1952, she’s become the longest-reigning British monarch ever, and the second-longest reigning head of state in all of world history.

She has presided over more than 70 years of ups and downs in British history, including the country’s attempt to scale back its colonial interests, Thatcherism, the death of Princess Diana, Brexit, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. (And, this is all in addition to the numerous dramas and scandals involving her immediate family.) 

But, when she’s not busy meeting prime ministers or hosting state dinners, what does the Queen do for fun? It’s a question, like “what’s in her purse,” that her subjects and curious royal watchers have asked for decades.

Some of her interests are well-known—horse racing and corgis, for example—but much about her remains a mystery. In her 70+ years on the throne, she has never given an interview, and most of her public speeches have stayed light on personal details.

Still, it’s possible to piece together some information on the Queen’s favorite hobbies, if you know where to look.

Horses, Horses, Horses

Elizabeth will always be associated with corgis, and while she’s very fond of the stout little dogs, her true animal love lies with horses.

She started riding when she was just three years old and received her first pony when she was four. As she got older, she developed an interest in breeding and horse racing.

She doesn’t gamble, but she’s been known to read The Racing Post over breakfast, and she breeds thoroughbreds, Shetland ponies, and Fell ponies.

Even without placing bets on her horses, she’s made plenty of cash—more than $8 million, according to some reports—from various racing prizes.

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The Queen briefly gave up riding in 2021 after mobility issues made the pastime uncomfortable for her, but in June 2022, she quite literally got back on the horse and was photographed riding a black Fell pony at Windsor Castle.

And, for her 96th birthday portrait two months earlier? The grinning monarch, clearly in her element, posed between two of her beloved ponies, Bybeck Katie and Bybeck Nightingale.

Corgis, of Course

The Queen’s corgis are stars in their own right, having appeared alongside Daniel Craig—a.k.a. James Bond—in a now-famous 2012 Olympics skit that showed a decoy Elizabeth parachuting into the stadium for the opening ceremony.

When Prince Harry got engaged to Meghan Markle in 2017, one of the first questions he answered about his then-fiancée was whether the corgis liked her. “The corgis took to you straight away,” he joked during the couple’s first joint interview. “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at; this one walks in, absolutely nothing.”

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As with horses, Elizabeth’s love for corgis began in childhood, and she’s since owned more than thirty of them over the years. She’s also a great fan of dorgis, which are crossbreeds of corgis and dachshunds.

The Queen reportedly stopped breeding corgis and dorgis in 2015 to not leave any dogs behind when she dies, but she couldn’t be without her beloved pooches for long.

While her last corgi and dorgi died in 2018 and 2020, respectively, her family later gifted her with new pups in 2021.

Country Drives

This one may sound a little dull for one of the most powerful people in the world, but it’s true: The Queen loves to drive.

It does make sense, though, because when secretaries and bodyguards constantly trail you and the press reports your every move, the driver’s seat can offer some much-needed peace and quiet—as well as a modicum of control.

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Elizabeth first discovered her love of driving when she served as a mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service toward the tail end of World War II.

She now owns a stable of Jaguars, Range Rovers, and more, and she’s frequently been spotted tooling around her estates in one of her vehicles.

She gave up driving on public roads in 2019, but she was photographed taking herself for a jaunt around Windsor as recently as November 2021.

A Royal Green Thumb

Though Elizabeth lives among some of the most beautiful gardens in the world, her interest in plants only developed much later in life.

Around 2018, reports circulated that the monarch became interested in gardening after a renovation of the gardens at Windsor Castle.

There’s no word, however, on whether she’s been cultivating the rose named in her honor.

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Stamp Collecting

Like many royal family members before her, the Queen is a devoted philatelist. The tradition began with her grandfather George V, who started the Royal Philatelic Collection in the late 1800s before his accession to the throne.

Elizabeth has added tons of stamps to the collection throughout her lifetime, including many that feature her own face.

Experts have estimated that her trove is worth more than $124 million and, in 2004, England’s National Postal Museum launched an exhibit of her rarest and most impressive finds. (Some royal experts have also reported that the Queen likes to show off her personal collection to visitors at the palace.)

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Pigeon Racing

One of the Queen’s more controversial hobbies is pigeon racing, another tradition that dates back to the reign of her grandfather.

For much of her life, she’s maintained a large flock at her Sandringham estate, and she’s a patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and the National Flying Club.

It’s perhaps not as glamorous as horseback riding, but there’s still a royal touch: The pigeons travel in boxes bearing the royal crest and wear the Queen’s cipher on their legs.

Queen Elizabeth II watching a pigeon being release from a basket
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Her Preferred Nightcap 

Even in her younger days, Elizabeth wasn’t much for wild parties, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t occasionally indulge in a cocktail or two.

She’s been known to drink sweet wine with dinner or a dry martini in the evenings, and sometimes a glass of wine before bed.

Her favorite drink, however, is gin and Dubonnet (a fortified wine made with cassis). Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House both have their own official gins as well, and the Queen released her own sparkling wine in 2022 to commemorate her Platinum Jubilee.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s doctors advised her to cut back in 2021 following some health issues, but it’s still fun to imagine her sneaking a nip when no one’s looking.

She’s the Queen, after all—can anyone really tell her what to do?

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