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‘You had to keep your trap shut!’: A retired Perthshire farm worker’s memories of being the Queen Mum’s personal chauffeur

Arthur Barty was chauffeur to the Queen Mother for 27 years.
Arthur Barty was chauffeur to the Queen Mother for 27 years.

He was the farmhand from Perthshire employed as the Queen Mother’s chauffeur for nearly three decades. Arthur Barty opens up to Gayle Ritchie about life behind the royal wheel.

As far as a job titles go, being the Queen Mum’s chauffeur is a pretty hard one to beat.

For 27 years, Arthur Barty drove Her Majesty around the country in a fleet of prestigious vehicles owned by the royal family, including top-spec Bentleys, Daimlers and Rolls-Royces.

It was an exciting, glamorous career which saw Arthur drive around 100,000 miles and get involved in all sorts of adventures while in the company of royals and dignitaries.

It was a far cry from sleepy Meikleour, the tiny Perthshire hamlet, best known for its world-famous beech hedge, where he had been brought up.

Born in Alyth on March 31 1939, Arthur was raised at Meikleour Smiddy by an auntie after his mother took ill.

In his late teens, he began working for John Matheson at Inchmagrannachan, a farm near Dunkeld.

“I was what you called a ‘loon’ – a farmhand doing all sorts of labouring jobs and milking parlour work,” says Arthur, 81.

“It was good fun but hard work.”

Arthur joined the iconic Royal Highland Regiment the Black Watch in December 1959 and was deployed in various countries across Europe, including Cyprus and Germany.

Fifteen years later, in December 1974, Arthur happened to be in Colchester when he was approached by Colonel Thomas McMicking.

“He came out of a room, having given a lecture and said: ‘Ah, Barty. I have a position for you – as the Queen Mother’s second chauffeur. Do you wish to accept this position or not? You have three seconds.’

“I was rather taken aback, but very honoured, so of course, I said yes immediately.”

Miles and miles

Arthur’s very first job was to drive Lord Elphinstone, the Queen Mum’s cousin, to Heathrow Airport.

Soon after, he drove Her Majesty from Clarence House to Royal Lodge, her Windsor home.

“I learned never to drive the same way twice with royalty – for security reasons,” he says.

Other jobs involved a lot more driving and in some cases, hundreds of miles.

Arthur driving the Queen Mum around Ascot in the 90s.

“Each trip from Clarence House to Birkhall on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire was 542 miles. With three stops en route, it was a 12 hour journey.

“Often, the next day, we would make a five hour journey of around 120 miles to the Castle of Mey in Caithness, the Queen Mother’s Scottish retreat.”

Other trips included travelling from Birkhall to the Black Isle, which was 80 miles, or to Glamis Castle, which Arthur describes as a “short drive” of 64 miles over the Cairn O’ Mount.

Arthur would meet the Queen Mother – who had flown in The Queen’s Flight from Heathrow – at Dyce Airport’s VIP area. He would then drive her to planned destinations in Scotland.

He also ferried her around the grounds of Clarence House in her buggy while she waved gaily to crowds.

Another royal he chauffeured on occasion was Lord Mountbatten.

Of course, the job wasn’t all about royalty and glamour. Arthur also had to care for and maintain the cars, but being a fan of all things motoring, this was a job he relished.

The Queen Mother on her way to the Castle of Mey for her annual holiday in August 2001.

Be seen and not heard

While Arthur felt very honoured to be given his job working alongside royalty, he admits he felt quite daunted by the prospect initially.

“I never in my life thought for a minute I’d survive what was really a 24/7 hands-on job,” he says.

“There were a lot of expectations. You had to be smart in the brain, alert and positive at all times, and keep your trap shut!

“It was a case of be seen and not heard! But it was a top notch, ten out of ten, job. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“It was about being courteous and being careful of how you looked. You had to be aware. You had to behave in such a way as not to cause a fuss, or be silly. “

The Queen at Scrabster in August 1990 after she came ashore from the Royal Yacht Britannia to be welcomed by the Queen Mother on the quayside. Also pictured are the Duchess of York and her daughter Beatrice. The Royal Party spent some time at the Queen Mother’s Caithness home at Castle of Mey before returning to the Britannia to head for Aberdeen.

A soft spot

Arthur had a soft spot for the Queen Mum and describes her as “an astonishingly lovely lady”.

While there was very little conversation between employer and employee, Arthur was touched when she invited him to accompany her to a Black Watch parade in Germany in 1987.

“I flew with the royal party from Aberdeen Airport and when we arrived in Germany, we were transported about by the military. The parade took place in Werl, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“It was such a huge honour to be invited by Her Majesty and it was such a special occasion.”

Award

In December 1993, Arthur was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal by the Queen at Sandringham House.

The following year, he was awarded the Long Service Medal, again at Sandringham.

“I was so honoured and completely chuffed to bits!” he says.

Arthur, aged 81, hails from Meikleour in Perthshire.

A sad day

When the Queen Mum died on March 30 2002, it was a sad day for Arthur.

He had lost not only someone he respected but also his job. “It was difficult news to take as she was such a lovely soul,” he laments.

“And of course, that was the death knell for my job as a chauffeur. I ended up being on the dole for a year.”

In May 2003, Arthur became the verger of The Royal Chapel of All Saints in the grounds of Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, a role he carried out for nearly nine years until he retired.

Royal gifts

Back in 2017, Arthur kindly donated his collection of photographs and 24 Christmas cards sent to him by the Queen Mother between 1977 and 2001.

All had been personally signed and included colour images of the Queen Mother, her corgis, the royal family and scenes from royal life.

Arthur donated the proceeds of sales from the items to charities close to his heart.

Meghan and Harry

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance to commemorate the war dead on November 7 last year, the couple made a point of chatting to Arthur.

“I never thought for a minute I would meet His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness but it was an absolute pleasure to chat to them,” he says.

Harry and Meghan in 2019.

Motoring passion

Arthur, who left the Queen Mum’s service in 2002, still loves nipping about in fancy cars. He’s owned many over the years, including a left-hand drive 1962 Volkswagen Beetle.

“I bought it in 1968 and sold it in 2009 – so I had it for 41 years,” he says.

Last year, he did a big trip in his 1988 BMW 7 Series – driving from his home in Old Windsor to Meikleour to visit friends and family – and back.

That he has a big place in his heart for Perthshire is in no doubt.

The Meikleour Arms was built in 1820.

Memories of Meikleour

Arthur is a fourth generation member of the blacksmiths of Meikleour.

His great grandfather David Barty was employed on Meikleour Estate in 1746, during the Jacobite Rebellion.

He accompanied the estate’s owner, Robert Mercer-Nairne, to battle at Culloden.

“If a horse lost a shoe, he would put on a new one, allowing the battle to continue,” says Arthur.

Meikleour, the site of the highest hedge in the world.

When his grandfather William Barty died in 1947, Arthur, who had lived in Meikleour Smiddy since childhood, moved with his parents to Duchally Castle in Auchterarder.

Here, his father took on the role of chef and butler while his mother was the housekeeper.

Soon after, he took on farm work near Dunkeld. And the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, Arthur lives in Old Windsor with his wife, Jenny, a retired nanny.
Both have fond memories of Scotland and like to visit when they can.


Royal car collection

The Queen Mother’s cars all sported NLT plates, but no-one seems to know the significance of the letters.

Certainly, the royals are famous for their love of cars. This dates back to the end of the Second World War when the Queen trained as a driver and mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Since then the Queen, Prince Phillip and their family have owned and driven some of the most expensive, most luxurious cars in the world.

When the Queen is on official state duty, she has the choice of a range of vehicles including three Rolls-Royces, three Daimlers, two Bentleys, and a number of Volkswagen support cars.

Both Bentleys were specifically designed for Her Majesty and include hinged rear doors, so she can stand up straight before stepping out, armoured plating and a unique removable roof covering.

The Queen once famously said that her favourite car is the Land Rover Defender and according to carkeys.co.uk, she has owned 30 Defenders in her life.

The Queen driving herself in a Land Rover Defender 110 to the stables on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk in January 2000.

A fully customised, 2002 edition of the Defender with a 4.2-litre V8 engine that she personally received from Land Rover was sold at auction for around £30,240.

Another on the Queen’s list of exclusive, executive cars is the 2001 Jaguar Daimler V8 Super LWB. The car was her personal vehicle for three years and was used to drive around the Windsor Castle estate and visit friends.

The Jag had a number of modifications including an armrest designed specifically for Her Majesty’s own type of handbag as well as a unique switch which allowed her to funnel the fresh air to the sides after telling the designers that she likes the fresh air while driving, but not directly on her face.

In 2017, carkeys.co.uk estimated her entire car collection to be worth an eye-watering £10 million.

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