Why Helen Mirren Had a ‘Lesson in Embarrassment’ Drinking Tea With Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

Milk tripped Dame Helen Mirren up while having tea with Queen Elizabeth II — who likes to start her mornings with a cup of Earl Gray — and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

Lauded for her acting skills, the 74-year-old worth $50 million who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen (2007) could barely speak while having tea with the royals and a few others, according to People. 

Mirren spoke in ‘gobbledygook’

Mirren and Queen Elizabeth II have met during receptions at Buckingham Palace but as the actress explained during the “Helen Mirren and Hawk Koch Discuss The Magic of Movies” event in Nov. 2019, there were many others in attendance, often hundreds of people.

So, when she received an invitation to have tea with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, she assumed it’d be another large gathering and could barely contain herself when she showed up to see only a small group of people assembled for tea. 

Queen Elizabeth II and Dame Helen Mirren in 2011
Queen Elizabeth II meets with Dame Helen Mirren on May 9, 2011 | Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images

“She invited me for tea,” Mirren recalled. “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.” 

She remembered saying, “Oh well I can manage that,’ before agreeing to tea. But when she arrived she realized this time would be unlike the other times she had crossed paths with the leader of the British monarchy.

“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,” she remembered. “I know absolutely nothing about horses, at all, and the Queen knows everything about horses.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Dame Helen Mirren in 2014
Queen Elizabeth II and Dame Helen Mirren in 2014 | David Crump – WPA Pool/Getty Images

In fact, Queen Elizabeth II is said to have made $8 and $9 million from her racehorses

She sat down and in “desperately trying to make polite conversation” the actress may have become a bit nervous with every word “coming out like gobbledygook.”

She forgot how to say ‘pass the milk’

Then the Oscar winner got a “lesson in embarrassment” when it came time for the actual tea. 

“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 said.

At that moment, the actress forgot how to address Prince Philip so she could ask him to pass the milk. 

“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,” she recalled.

Dame Helen Mirren on Oct. 30, 2019
Dame Helen Mirren at a photocall for The Good Liar on October 30, 2019 | David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

“I mean, is it sir? Is it your majesty? Is it your highness?” Mirren said before adding, “Is it rude to ask him to pass the milk? Or should I just ask for a lackey?”

After quickly thinking about what to do, the actress opted to drink her tea without milk. “I finished up not having any milk,” she told the audience. “I just couldn’t sort it out.” 

Mirren deemed the experience “a lesson in embarrassment” and called Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II “lovely” and “utterly gracious.”