Imagine Her Majesty’s shock, on retiring to her large first-floor bedroom overlooking the gardens at Buckingham Palace just the other evening, to find her bed ice-cold. No bottle.
Instead, it was lying to one side and was unfilled, so the Queen, who has always been a practical sort, made a hot water bottle for herself.
She clearly saw the funny side, turning the incident into a huge joke when telling her close senior aide Angela Kelly about it.
For Melani Dimple, however, the housemaid who forgot to put the bottle into the bed while performing other duties, the consequences were anything but funny.
Sri Lankan-born Melani, who had worked as a housemaid at Buckingham Palace for five years, and in the prized position on the Queen’s private floor for two, has since left Palace employment altogether.
There is much sadness and anger below stairs about the departure of Melani, a popular figure who was married recently and was hoping to move into a grace-and-favour staff flat at the Palace mews with her new husband.
But the anger is not directed against the Queen, who is not being blamed for Melani’s unexpected departure. It is focused on Mrs Kelly, the Queen’s personal assistant and senior dresser.
Angela is the Liverpool crane driver’s daughter, raised in a council house, who also holds the grandiose title Curator to the Queen for ‘Jewellery, Insignia and Wardrobe’. These days, though, she is much more than that.
The close relationship she has developed with the monarch in recent years has now evolved even further, giving her extraordinary influence over who is chosen to work closely with the Queen, and — just as importantly — who is not.
‘Angela’s beady eye is on everything that is done for Her Majesty, making sure everything is perfect,’ says one below-stairs figure.
‘The next thing we knew after the hot water bottle business was that Melani was gone. We’re all very upset about it. Everyone’s entitled to make a mistake — and, besides, the Queen was amused to have to do it herself. I think she found it quite a novelty.’
Of course, such perfectionism on Mrs Kelly’s behalf and her wish for the Queen to be looked after properly is highly admirable, but the timing of the episode could not have been worse.
Melani had just been given British citizenship. She was offered a new role training other staff, but she decided to leave royal service altogether.
‘There was no doubt she was upset at what happened because everyone knew about it,’ says a friend of the softly-spoken former maid. ‘She was very house-proud.’
But that wasn’t the end of the story. When the Queen heard that Melani had put in her notice, she sent for her because she wanted to say her own farewell to the charming girl who, she understood, was returning to Sri Lanka.
‘Apparently the Queen was very surprised when Melani told her that she wasn’t going back to Sri Lanka but was staying in London,’ says a close figure.
But this isn’t the only departure from the Queen’s floor to have sent a wave of uncertainty belowstairs at a time when, ironically enough, ‘upstairs’ the Royal Family has been enjoying its calmest and most successful period for years.
Beverley Jones, who has worked under Angela Kelly as one of the Queen’s dressers for the past 12 years, has also been moved to other duties.
Bev, as she is known, held the same role for many years to the Queen Mother, who was very fond of her. She was offered a post on the Queen’s floor at Buckingham Palace after the Queen Mother’s death in 2002.
‘Bev has travelled the world with the Queen and is upset to be no longer serving her,’ says a member of staff.
Indeed, just five years ago she was among the hand-picked senior members of domestic staff invited to the Queen’s unveiling of the statue of the Queen Mother in the Mall.
Now, like Melani, Bev is no longer in the gilded circle of the monarch’s personal staff. Of course it’s natural that Mrs Kelly’s rise and rise has created some jealousies among others who work at the Palace. Equally, it is surely no coincidence that these complaints have increased as the Queen herself gets older. At 88, she is in remarkably good health but she does like things around her to be settled.
‘Angela sees it as her job to make sure everything runs like clockwork — and that includes the people who take care of Her Majesty,’ says an aide.
Not long ago Mrs Kelly, who has transformed the Queen’s wardrobe to be full of fashionable pastel shades and elegantly cut dresses and skirt suits, gave a rare public insight into her relationship with the Queen.
‘No one has forgotten the time when the Queen was trying on some new clothes in front of a mirror and, turning to [Mrs Kelly], said with a smile: ‘We could be sisters.’
In an unprecedented interview, sanctioned by Buckingham Palace, she said that the two of them discuss ‘anything and everything’.
‘We are two typical women,’ she said. ‘We discuss clothes, make-up and jewellery.’
The twice-married Mrs Kelly, who has never lost her Scouse accent, confided: ‘We have a lot of fun together. The Queen has a wicked sense of humour and is a great mimic. She can do all accents — including mine.’
In the six years since she made those candid remarks, her position as the Queen’s gatekeeper and confidante has only strengthened.
Often, when at Windsor, the Queen will say she is going out for a walk. Staff know that this means she will be heading in the direction of Frogmore, where Angela, a mother and grandmother, lives alone in a grace and favour home.
‘They like to chat — and they do it often,’ says a courtier.
Together with the Queen’s long-serving page, Paul Whybrew, Angela is among a handful of domestic staff who have been promoted to the royal household.
But while Whybrew, who appeared with the Queen in the James Bond gag for the opening of the London Olympics, is a much-loved figure among Palace staff, Mrs Kelly is viewed differently by some of those who find themselves reporting to her.
‘The Queen’s diary is getting quieter, which means the workload has been reduced, but the reason why people are now apprehensive of working on her floor is because it means working for Angela,’ a senior figure says.
To the Queen, however, Angela can do no wrong. No one has forgotten the time when the Queen was trying on some new clothes in front of a mirror and, turning to her dresser, said with a smile: ‘We could be sisters.’
There was more in that comment than the mere fact that they are of similar height and build. For there is a genuine warmth between the two women that has grown into companionship.
‘There is no doubt that the Queen depends on her,’ says the courtier. ‘She likes the fact that Angela irons out problems — and that she’s very good at picking up gossip which HM loves to hear.
Angela goes to the odd showbiz party and always reports back what she’s picked up. The Queen loves that.
‘Years ago, Princess Margaret kept her abreast of such things. Now Angela does.’
Such is the trust the Queen has in her that Angela was even permitted to write a book about her — albeit one that concentrated on her dresses.
Profits from the book, Dressing The Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe, went to charity.
All in all, it’s a remarkable story for someone who arrived in royal service by chance.
In 1992, she was housekeeper to the then British Ambassador to Germany, and a former driver with the Women’s Royal Army Corps.
When the Queen and Prince Philip came to stay during an official visit to Berlin, they began chatting to Mrs Kelly, who spoke of her plans to return to Britain.
Not long afterwards, she received a call offering her a job at the Palace. She started in 1993. Three years later, she was senior dresser, and in 2001 became the Queen’s first ever personal assistant.
Today, the woman whose father was a gatekeeper and crane driver at Liverpool docks, is solely responsible for how the Queen looks in public, organising her wardrobe and liaising with dressmakers, and also, increasingly, designing her clothes as well.
She even made the christening robe used for Prince George’s baptism last year.
But her relationships with others around the Queen have not been smooth. Her partnership with fellow dressmaker Alison Pordum broke up some four years ago after reports of a ‘verbal confrontation’ between the two.
On another occasion, royal protection officers were said to have had to intervene to separate Angela from housemaid Hannah Coullett, whom she accused of seeing her then boyfriend, pastry chef Tony Ferriroli. The women were pulled apart as they grappled with one another at the servants’ entrance to the Palace.
When, later, she had a bust-up with security officials over her Palace pass, she acquired a new nickname. Staff are known by their initials: fiery Angela, who is AK, instantly became AK47.
None of this troubles the Queen.
‘She regards them as personal issues and nothing to do with her,’ a friend says. ‘For her, Angela is a problem solver.’
So it was to Angela that she dispatched the Duchess of Cambridge ahead of her and William’s hugely successful trip to Australia and New Zealand, to provide her granddaughter-in-law with some jewellery.
‘Angela gave Kate all the right things to wear,’ an aide says. ‘The Queen would have done that herself once, but now she trusts Angela to make the right decisions. We later heard that Kate had to sign for the jewels she borrowed.’
Friends of the Queen have suggested that Mrs Kelly’s rise coincided with the loss of the two most important women in HM’s life: her mother and sister Margaret. Angela denied this, insisting in her 2007 interview that theirs is ‘just a working relationship — but a close one’.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on individual staffing matters.’
But it is understood there has been a ‘streamlining’ of staff involved in the Queen’s wardrobe in recent times, with more use of existing outfits.
An insider said: ‘People are moved to different roles from time to time. That’s healthy, and as it should be.’
For Angela Kelly, meanwhile, there is no talk of her moving on. This year marks her 21st anniversary working for the Queen. She’s now 61 and fellow staff have been pondering how long she will continue.
Perhaps there is a clue in that interview. ‘I hope the Queen and I grow old together,’ she declared. (Courtesy Mail Online)