The elders of the British royal family are thought of as a bit stoic and old-fashioned. So can you imagine the queen of the U.K. with a mobile phone? Well, it turns out that the monarch does actually have one, although she doesn’t know how to use it very well. For help with it, then, she turned to her grandsons William and Harry. But alas, that turned out to be a mistake, as they apparently used it to pull an epic prank.
Harry and William present a certain face in professional situations. At diplomatic events the pair, along with their wives and the rest of the royals, represent the entire United Kingdom. But although the royal family are permitted to have a little fun while visiting schools and the like, they all take their jobs very seriously indeed.
However, in private, matters are different. The royals enjoy a good joke as much as anyone. And this is perhaps most obvious at Christmas, when the whole family get together and exchange gifts. But the clan already have most material possessions that a person could ever want, so instead they exchange joke presents – and they’re unexpectedly hilarious.
Yes, according to palace insiders, the royals have given one another some pretty odd and amusingly personal gag gifts over the years. Kate Middleton once gave a pre-marriage Harry a “grow your own girlfriend” kit, for instance. And when Meghan Markle came into the picture, she gave the Queen a toy hamster that sang.
Most hilariously of all, though, Harry once gifted his famous grandmother with a shower cap that read “ain’t life a b****.” Definitely not a queenly gift – and definitely not something she would ever be associated with in public – but according to reports from those in the know, she loved it and found it funny.
Other tales of royal jokes and pranks have appeared in the British media over the years as well. Allegedly, things got pretty wild at the wedding reception of Meghan and Harry, for instance. You see, William apparently made light of a recent fall that Harry had had by tying a ladder to the back of his wedding car. And according to a source who spoke to The Daily Mirror, it “nearly floored a few people.”
Harry and William might get their love of japes from their late mother, Princess Diana. She was reportedly a big fan of playing jokes on people. In fact, according to the book Diana: In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton, in her pre-royal days she would make prank phone calls to “people with silly names who appeared in the phone directory.”
In the 2017 documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life And Legacy, Harry remembered how pranks had brought him and Diana closer together. “She was one of the naughtiest parents… One of her mottos to me was, ‘You can be as naughty as you want, just don’t get caught,’” the prince told the cameras.
“She would come and watch us play football and smuggle sweets into our socks,” Harry reminisced. He also recollected a time when he had been walking back from football with his clothes “bulging with sweets [candy]” thanks to Diana. “Behind closed doors she was a very loving caring mother and an incredibly funny person. A total kid, through and through,” he said.
William loved to play pranks with his mother too. In 2018 Diana’s former protection officer, Ken Wharfe, told Robert Jobson’s Royal Podcast about a joke that he had witnessed when Diana had the media following her around. “William said, ‘We can go to the top of the cliff, and when Mummy does the photo call, we can fire the balloons at the press.’”
Diana hadn’t wanted to do the photo call, but she readily agreed when her sons told her what they were planning. So it was that as soon as the reporters got near, William and Harry fired water balloons at them, hitting their targets expertly. “It was probably some of the best pictures ever taken of Diana in the Caribbean,” Wharfe said.
William also discussed his mother on camera for Diana: Our Mother. “She made the decision that, no matter what, despite all of the difficulties of growing up in that limelight and on that stage, she was going to ensure that both of us had as normal a life as possible,” he remembered.
“She was a massive card writer. She loved the rudest cards you can imagine,” William said. “Usually she found something very embarrassing – you know, a very funny card and then wrote very nice stuff inside. But I dared not open it in case the teachers or anyone else in the class saw it.”
There was another occasion where William was embarrassed by his mother, too, and yet it was a nice gesture as well. “There’s a couple of memories I have that are particularly funny,” he explained. “Just outside this room where we are now, she organized [for] when I came home from school to have Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell waiting at the top of the stairs.”
“I was [a] 12 or 13-year-old boy who had posters of them on my wall. And I went bright red and didn’t quite know what to say and sort of fumbled, and I think I pretty much fell down the stairs on the way up,” William reminisced. “I was completely and utterly sort of awestruck. But that was a very funny memory that’s lived with me forever about her loving and embarrassing.”
Diana famously didn’t always get along with Queen Elizabeth. Their relationship was a very complicated one – there was respect there, but there was also great tension. However, the same can’t be said of the Queen’s relationship with William and Harry. They’ve always seemed to have a deep and loving bond.
“I still think she’s just my grandmother, really,” William said during an ABC interview in 2012. Yes, although he’s the future king, he has a fairly normal relationship with her. “I’m probably a bit of a cheeky grandson, like my brother as well. We both take the mickey a bit too much. But I remember always having a healthy respect for my grandmother,” he said.
In May 2018 E! News royal correspondent Melanie Bromley discussed Harry’s relationship with the Queen. “For Harry and the Queen, it’s always been quite obvious that as soon as William and Kate started to have children, Harry’s potential for ever becoming king… He wouldn’t be expected to do that,” she told Fraser Coast Chronicle. “His relationship with the Queen is a lot more fun.”
Fans of the royal family did actually also get a well-publicized glimpse of that fun back in 2016. It was during this year, you see, that Harry involved his grandmother in a promotional video that he filmed for the Invictus Games – a sporting event he had created for disabled servicemen and women. And it showed an unexpectedly different side of the monarch, too.
The video didn’t just involve the Queen, though; it also included two other massive names: Barack and Michelle Obama. In the footage, the Obamas were seen sending Harry a video challenge. “Remember when you told us to bring it at the Invictus Games?” Michelle said, and then her husband called, “Careful what you wish for!”
The Queen was seen watching the video from the Obamas, and then she did something totally unexpected – smiling and saying, “Oh, really. Please!” Harry then joined in with a “boom!” and a dropped-mic gesture. And the prince later explained to Hello! magazine how it had all come about.
“She had great fun. And I think it was almost as though you could see that look in her face, at the age of 90, thinking, ‘Why the hell does nobody ask me to do these things more often?’” Harry told Hello! “We did one take from two angles. She’s the Queen; she’s busy! You don’t have more than 90 seconds to get that right.”
“Also, she’s so incredibly skilled, she only needs one take,” Harry continued in his interview with the magazine. “Meanwhile, I was like a gibbering wreck. I was more nervous than anyone else. I was like, ‘We’ve got to get this right.’ And she just dropped the mic! It was great fun, and I hope everyone enjoyed it.”
But did the Queen enjoy the prank with the mobile phone? First of all, it might be surprising that she owns one of them in the first place. Some members of the royal family frown on such devices. Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, for instance, is not a fan of the technology. “Phones are bad enough, but the iPads – you can’t even see their heads,” she told ITV for its 2018 documentary Queen of the World.
In fact, the royals have had to adjust to the new world of phones and social media. They’re not supposed to do selfies with fans, and they don’t have their own Instagram accounts. When Meghan Markle got into a serious relationship with Harry, she closed hers down. And she politely says no when asked for selfies.
“The Queen’s key concern at events is that she can engage with the people she meets and have conversations with them,” a palace aide told the Daily Express in 2015. “It’s difficult to see how people can experience an engagement first-hand if they are watching it through a view-finder.”
Yet, despite her dislike, the Queen does actually own a mobile phone. In 2001 The Daily Telegraph reported that Prince Andrew had given her one as a present. “He has shown her how to use it and keyed in several family numbers, although it is not known if she is yet accomplished at text messaging,” the newspaper claimed.
And it seems that perhaps she never did get the hang of it. In 2007 the media reported that the Queen didn’t understand the interface of her mobile phone and turned to the younger generation for help – namely, William and Harry. She probably regretted this later, though, because they took the opportunity to play a prank.
You see, the princes reportedly recorded a very unroyal message for the answering machine. “Hey wassup!” it apparently said. “This is Liz. Sorry I’m away from the throne. For a hotline to Philip, press one, for Charles, press two.” And, of course, they even got the royal pets involved. “For the corgis, press three.”
One might imagine that the Queen would be utterly furious, but actually, she apparently found it funny – eventually. She was amused by the identities of the important people who may have called her and heard the message, according to the Daily Star. Sadly, though, the reactions of anybody who did phone went unrecorded.
But the Queen’s private secretary took it more badly, according to the reporters at the Daily Star. The newspaper claimed the aide had been so appalled that he “almost fell off his chair the first time one of his calls was put through to the voicemail.” So Harry and William might have found themselves in hot water with him.
And yet thankfully, no long-lasting damage seemed to be done in the royal palace. Now, the amusing anecdote gets passed around the internet every so often. In 2018 the story was posted to Reddit’s “Today I Learned” forum, where it racked up 102k upvotes and 2.1k comments in short order.
Many people joked about who should get the lion’s share of the blame. “You say ‘Prince William AND Prince Harry,’ but I think we all know William was just along for the ride,” one person wrote. A comment in response to that one read, “Harry had the idea but needed William because he knew how the voicemail worked.”
Others suggested that William, the man who’ll be king one day, might have been the one responsible. “My older brothers are very much like William and Harry and did this sort of stuff all the time. I bet William planted the idea and orchestrated it so that Harry got most of the blame,” another user stated.
It seems possible that in the years since the alleged prank, the Queen actually did learn how to use her mobile phone. In 2018 an anonymous royal butler told the Daily Star about it – a quote that was repeated in OK magazine. “She’s getting the hang of it – it’s the touch screen she’s still trying to get around,” they said.
“She’s still using it now – but she always gets help from us butlers, her grandchildren and her personal assistant Angela Kelly, who charges the phone for her,” the butler went on. What does the Queen use it for? Keeping up on political news, apparently. And the phone features the highest level of security, too, so it can’t be hacked.
According to a Daily Mail article published in 2017, the Queen even has her own social media account as well – but no regular person is getting in. Even the palace staff don’t know how many friends she has on her account. And it seems that she stopped asking William and Harry for advice; the newspaper claimed, you see, that two of her other grandchildren, Peter and Zara Philips, helped her with the new technology.
William and Harry probably have no time to arrange pranks on their grandmother anymore, as one of the brothers is a father of three now, and the other is anticipating the birth of his first child. However, the new generation of royals might just carry on the family tradition of pulling pranks and jokes. Prince George is five, but he’s already got a reputation for being “cheeky.”
Plus, Princess Charlotte has been spotted sticking her tongue out for the cameras – just like her uncle Harry used to do, in fact. So it seems that the future of royalty is in good hands! And everyone still gets a good laugh out of William and Harry’s past phone prank, which is almost certainly exactly what they were going for.