From sharing jokes to skipping protocol, how Queen Elizabeth worked with all 14 prime ministers during her reign

A side-by-side of Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth and Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth has worked with 14 prime ministers to date.
Getty Images
  • Over the course of Queen Elizabeth's reign, she has worked with 14 prime minsters.
  • Her favorite was reportedly Winston Churchill, and she enjoyed breaking protocol with Harold Wilson.
  • She reportedly had a tough time working with Margaret Thatcher during their weekly audiences. 

The first prime minister Queen Elizabeth worked with was Winston Churchill.

Winston Churchill bowing to Queen Elizabeth outside of 10 Downing Street in 1955
Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth in 1955.
STF/Getty Images

Churchill first served as prime minister between 1930 and 1945, and then he served a second term just as Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952. Since she was so young — only 27 at the time — Churchill tutored the Queen on the constitutional monarchy and the intricacies of the political parties.

Churchill and the Queen became close during their time working together.

Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill in 1953 with her two sons next to her
Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill in 1953.
Central Press/Getty Images

"I could not hear what they talked about, but it was, more often than not, punctuated by peals of laughter, and Winston generally came out wiping his eyes," the Queen's private secretary Sir "Tommy" Lascelles wrote, according to Sally Bedell Smith's book "Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch."

Anthony Eden served as prime minister between 1955 and 1957.

Antony Eden and Queen Elizabeth dressed in a gown at a party
Antony Eden and Queen Elizabeth.
PA Images/Getty Images

Eden, a Conservative, kept a relatively formal relationship with Queen Elizabeth, and he was often described as nervous.

During their short time working together, Eden authorized a failed invasion of Egypt, which became known as the Suez Crisis. He resigned from his position two months later, citing health reasons. 

Harold Macmillan loved to share gossip with the Queen when he served as prime minister between 1957 and 1963.

Queen Elizabeth and Harold Macmillan in 1954 walking in front of 10 Downing Street
Queen Elizabeth and Harold Macmillan in 1954.
Bettmann/Getty Images

Macmillan, who was a member of the Conservative party, first found it difficult to connect with the Queen, but he quickly found her to be a close confidante.

He once described the monarch as "a great support, because she is the one person you can talk to."

When the Conservative party's Alec Douglas-Home became prime minister, he and the Queen were already friendly.

Alec Douglas-Home and Queen Elizabeth in 1965 at a speech event
Alec Douglas-Home and Queen Elizabeth in 1965.
Keystone-France /Getty Images

Douglas-Home served as prime minister for just one short year between 1963 and 1964 before being voted out in favor of the Labour party. He already knew the Queen before taking office because he was friends with her mother. Before taking office, Douglas-Home even helped the Queen name some of her horses

Harold Wilson was the first prime minister Queen Elizabeth worked with from a lower class.

Harold Wilson and Queen Elizabeth in 1969, standing and facing each other
Harold Wilson and Queen Elizabeth in 1969.
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Wilson, a member of the Labor party, came from the middle class and worked his way up to hold the high office between 1964 to 1970 and again between 1974 to 1976.

The Queen and Wilson eventually ditched protocols and traditions.

Harold Wilson and Queen Elizabeth shaking hands outside of 10 Downing Street
Harold Wilson and Queen Elizabeth in 1976.
Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth allowed Wilson to stay for drinks after their audiences and even to smoke his pipe. Wilson himself even described their relationship as "relaxed intimacy."

Edward Heath served as prime minister between 1970 to 1974.

Edward Heath and Queen Elizabeth in 1974, chatting
Edward Heath and Queen Elizabeth in 1974.
Keystone/Getty Images

Heath was part of the Conservative party and served four years as prime minister. Queen Elizabeth and Heath "clashed" over entering the European Economic Community, which was the early stages of the European Union, according to The New Yorker

When James Callaghan became prime minister in 1976, the country was rife with strikes.

James Callaghan and Queen Elizabeth in 1977.
James Callaghan and Queen Elizabeth in 1977.
David Ashdown/Getty Images

During his three years in office, the UK was in a state of turmoil as workers went on strike, ultimately bringing down his Labour government. But Callaghan said he and Queen Elizabeth got along well during the chaos. 

"What one gets is friendliness but not friendship," Callaghan said about the Queen, according to the book "Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and Her Court."

When Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the UK, she and the Queen began a relationship that was reportedly strained.

Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher in 1979
Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

The Conservative leader ruled from 1979 to 1990, and over the course of that decade, the two women reportedly did not get along all that well. Some sources say they had different personalities and different senses of humor. 

Despite rumored tensions behind the scenes, the two always respected each other in public.

Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher in 2005
Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher in 2005.
Antony Jones/Getty Images

In her autobiography, Thatcher wrote that the clashes between her and the Queen were made up.

"Although the press could not resist the temptation to suggest disputes between the Palace and Downing Street, I always found the Queen's attitude towards the work of the Government absolutely correct," Thatcher wrote. "Of course, stories of clashes between 'two powerful women' were just too good not to make up."

John Major was prime minister during one of the toughest times for the monarchy: Princess Diana and Prince Charles' divorce.

Queen Elizabeth presenting Sir John Major with a medal in 1999.
Queen Elizabeth and Sir John Major in 1999.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

John Major held the office between 1990 and 1997. He and the Queen were the faces of the UK during Prince Charles and Princess Diana's scandalous divorce.

"The Queen has been an absolute constant," Major told the BBC in 2015. "Us prime ministers have come and gone, life has changed, [but] she and the monarchy have been an absolute constant in their lives. I think that is very reassuring."

Tony Blair served 10 years as prime minister between 1997 and 2007.

Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth in 2005, shaking hands
Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth in 2005.
Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/Getty Images

As a member of the Labour party, Blair was expected to modernize the UK when he took office, and he often broke royal etiquette. But the Queen was quick to put the young leader in his place.

"She did say to me that Winston Churchill was the first prime minister that she dealt with, and that was before I was born," Blair told The Telegraph in 2002. "So I got a sense of my, er, my relative seniority, or lack of it."

Blair said he began to view Queen Elizabeth as a confidante.

Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth in 2002, sitting in opposite chairs
Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth in 2002.
Pool/Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images

"There are only two people in the world frankly to whom a prime minister can say what he likes about cabinet colleagues. One's the wife, and the other's the Queen," Blair told The Telegraph in 2002. "She [the Queen] is about the only person that you can tell something to in complete confidence and know that the confidence will never be broken."

Gordon Brown took the reins from Tony Blair from 2007 to 2010.

Queen Elizabeth and Gordon Brown in 2002 sitting in front of flowers
Queen Elizabeth and Gordon Brown in 2002.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Brown was less smooth than Blair, but he still had a relatively good relationship with the Queen. As he was born in Scotland, he still had the Scottish accent while in office, and the Queen reportedly liked to make fun of it.

David Cameron brought back tradition when he was in office between 2010 and 2016.

David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth in 2012, standing outside 10 downing
David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth in 2012.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

For the first time in over a decade, the Conservative party resumed control of government — albeit as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats — when Cameron took office. He helped usher in a modern Conservative party, which was more liberal and allowed the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK. 

Cameron did butt heads with the Queen a few times. In 2014, for example, he told former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that the Queen "purred" when he told her Scotland rejected a referendum for independence. He later apologized for the comment, which broke their confidentiality. 

Theresa May was prime minister between 2016 and 2019, becoming the Queen's second female leader.

Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth in 2018, sitting next to each other
Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth in 2018.
WPA Pool/Getty Images

During most of her time in office, May was consumed with talks about Brexit, and it eventually brought about her resignation. Despite the political turmoil, she and the Queen seemed to get along, connecting over common interests like the countryside and religion

Boris Johnson was the 14th prime minister Queen Elizabeth worked with.

queen and boris
Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth in 2021.
Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Johnson took the reins from May and finished the passage of Brexit. When he took office in 2019, his term got off to a rocky start when he asked the Queen to deliver a speech in Parliament, which experts called a "party political broadcast" for Johnson's Conservative party.

Johnson's relationship with the Palace became more strained when it came to light that Downing Street hosted a party the day before Prince Philip's funeral, which only 30 people were able to attend because of the UK's Covid protocols. 

The Queen will work with a 15th prime minister sometime this year, as Johnson just resigned.

Boris Johnson talks to Queen Elizabeth II during a reception for international business and investment leaders at Windsor Castle
Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth in 2021.
Alastair Grant - Pool/Getty Images

Johnson resigned as the Conservative Party leader on Thursday after several dozen Tory MPs quit the government as a result of his pattern of lying to the public and members of the government.

Johnson was booed during his resignation speech, during which he announced the process for selecting a new prime minister would begin immediately. 

He will remain prime minister until his successor is selected, and Conservative MPs anonymously told Insider that they think they can have a successor in place by late August or early September.

Deal icon An icon in the shape of a lightning bolt.

Keep reading

Close icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification.