Helen Mirren has a long history with royalty, having portrayed Queen Elizabeth II onscreen — twice — in addition to playing her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I.
Despite these royal roles, however, the 74-year-old actress was left at a loss when she was invited to have tea with the Queen and Prince Philip, and she couldn’t remember how she was supposed to address him.
During an onstage chat during the “Helen Mirren and Hawk Koch Discuss The Magic of Movies” event on Friday, Mirren regaled the audience with the story of being invited to tea at the Queen’s Sandringham estate (or, as Mirren calls it, “the horsey place”), as reported by People.
“She invited me for tea,” said Mirren, assuming she would be attending a large event. “I thought it was going to be in a room with 200 other people, which it often is. I’ve met her once before and it was in a room with 200 other people. So I said, ‘Oh well I can manage that.’ So it was at the horsey place and the message came to me that the Queen would like to invite you to tea, she knows you’re here.”
However, Mirren was shocked when she arrived and found herself at an intimate gathering with the royals. “So I walk in, and there’s like eight people sitting around a table. Prince Philip, the Queen, a Sheik of somewhere or other and a couple of horsey people. I know absolutely nothing about horses, at all, and the Queen knows everything about horses.”
As the Queen discussed her thoroughbreds, Mirren found herself “desperately trying to make polite conversation and it’s just coming out like gobbledygook.”
Things went downhill from here. “Then I got a cup of tea and the Queen, in particular, was having a very intense conversation about what’s in the sandwiches with Prince Philip, very important. ‘What is this? What’s in here?’” Mirren explained.
“The milk is on the other side of Prince Philip and I want some milk in my tea, but my brain goes completely dead and I cannot remember how to address Prince Philip. I mean, is it sir? Is it your majesty? Is it your highness?” Mirren said. “Is it rude to ask him to pass the milk? Or should I just ask for a lackey?”
Ultimately, Mirren decided to forego milk entirely. “I finished up not having any milk. I just couldn’t sort it out.”
However, Mirren insisted she had a wonderful time with the royals, despite her faulty recollection of protocol. “It’s a lesson in embarrassment, but they were lovely, they were utterly gracious,” she said.