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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Jochan Embley

Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite music, from Fred Astaire to Dame Vera Lynn

Special mentions: Dame Vera Lynn, Gary Barlow and Fred Astaire are all included

(Picture: Getty Images)

Back in 2016, to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, BBC Radio 2 broadcast a special two-hour programme, delving into the monarch’s favourite music.

A fascinating listen, it unearthed some fantastic stories — how the 13-year-old Elizabeth was taken to see a Wagner opera, and found the whole thing hilarious; her ability to sing all of George Formby’s songs from memory; a love for show tunes that started as a child — and also gave us a list of the Queen’s top 10 favourite pieces of music.

It offered a rare view into her personal artistic tastes, ranging from Christian hymns and wartime classics to songs that topped the UK charts as recently as 2012.

Here are Queen Elizabeth’s II favourite pieces of music.

Oklahoma! — Howard Keel

When the Howard Keel-starring production of Oklahoma! travelled over from Broadway to London’s West End, it was an instant hit — and stayed that way, running for 1,542 performances after its opening night at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in April 1947. The Queen was among its admirers, and had particular fondness for Keel’s rendition of its titular song.

Anything You Can Do (Annie Get Your Gun) — Dolores Gray and Bill Johnson

Another post-war Broadway import that had West End audiences besides themselves with excitement was Annie Get Your Gun, which also arrived in 1947, this time at the London Coliseum. It was this version of the musical, with Dolores Gray as Annie and Bill Johnson as Frank, that stuck in the Queen’s memory.

Sing — Gary Barlow and The Commonwealth Band featuring Military Wives

The most modern song on the Queen’s list is, in many ways, the one that best embodies her reign. Released in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and later performed at her Diamond Jubilee concert, it was written by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and featured vocalists from across the Commonwealth and the Military Wives Choir. It won over the British public, too, topping the UK singles charts.

Cheek to Cheek — Fred Astaire

In 1951, Fred Astaire starred in the musical comedy Royal Wedding, which was set in London at the time of the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip — or, as they were then known, Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten. The film was a box-office hit, and whether it has anything to do with the Queen loving this breezily romantic Astaire-sung song is unclear — but you wouldn’t be surprised.

The White Cliffs of Dover — Vera Lynn

One of the Queen’s most moving public addresses in the later stages of her reign was at the beginning of the Covid pandemic — and the most affecting line was surely her nod to Dame Vera Lynn: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure,” the Queen told the nation, “better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” And it’s another of Dame Vera’s enduring songs, The White Cliffs of Dover, that made it into the Queen’s all-time list.

Leaning on a Lamp-post — George Formby

Gyles Brandreth, a family friend of the royals, told the BBC in 2016 that the Queen’s love of George Formby was so great that she once considered becoming president of the George Formby Appreciation Society. It never came to fruition, alas, but Formby — a ukulele-wielding English comedian whose light-heartedly humorous ditties won the affection of the British public in the Thirties and Forties — did secure his place in the Queen’s top 10 with his rendition of Leaning on a Lamp-post.

Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven (hymn)

This is one of two hymns included in the Queen’s list. It’s emblematic of her Christian faith, which endured throughout her reign, but this one in particular holds special resonance: it was chosen as one of the pieces of music played at her wedding all those years ago.

The Lord’s My Shepherd (hymn)

The second hymn on the list is equally special to the Queen, having also received an airing at her wedding. It was sung to the Scottish tune Crimond, a descant for which had been taught to the then-Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret by a lady-in-waiting — a fortuitous thing, seeing as the music for the descant went missing two days before the wedding, and had to be written down in shorthand by the musician Sir William McKie as the princesses sung it to him from memory.

Lester Lanin medley

Lester Lanin, the late American bandleader, was a go-to hire whenever the upper echelons of society wanted to through a big old bash: he provided the music for Grace Kelly’s engagement party, soundtracked US presidential inaugurations and, for her 60th birthday party, played in front of the Queen. His floor-filling medlies were always crowd-pleasers, and it’s one of those that made it into the Queen’s favourites.

Regimental March Milanollo

The one piece of military music included is this upbeat composition, written by German composer Johann Valentin Hamm in the 1800s and performed by virtuoso violinist sisters Teresa and Maria Milanollo — stars of the mid-19th century music scene. It was later adopted by the Coldstream Guards, a regiment of the British Army.

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