LONDON – Even a monarch needs a little help from time to time – especially when the cost of heating those drafty old palaces spirals past $1.5 million a year.
But a request for assistance from a government fund that provides subsidized heating to low-income Britons has caused a spot of bother for Queen Elizabeth II, long one of the world’s wealthiest women.
Her Majesty’s application in 2004 was politely turned down by the government – in part because of fear of adverse publicity – and quietly forgotten until the Independent newspaper published the correspondence Friday after obtaining it via a Freedom of Information request.
The documents quote an unidentified functionary as gently reminding the royal household that the program was meant for people in need, not the upper crust, and he noted the potential public relations disaster.
“I also feel a bit uneasy about the probable adverse press coverage if the Palace were given a grant at the expense of, say, a hospital,” the official said. “Sorry this doesn’t sound more positive.”
Chagrined palace officials confirmed the account on Friday. A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said royal officials explored the possibility of getting money under the program as a way to reduce the monarchy’s cost to taxpayers by making the palace more energy efficient.
She said the royal household did not know at the time that the government money was targeted for low-income Britons.
The revelation touched a nerve at a time when Britain is facing severe budget cuts in the midst of a prolonged recession.
Graham Smith, spokesman for the anti-monarchy group Republic, said the queen’s attempt to access low-income funds was shameful.
“It is clear evidence of the contempt the palace has for ordinary people in this country,” he said.
The queen’s finances have been controversial in the past, with occasional debates about whether Britain’s head of state – whose role is largely ceremonial – costs taxpayers too much.
The 84-year-old monarch has royal residences across Britain, including Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Sandringham House in eastern England. Other residences, such as the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and St. James’s Palace in London, are used as offices or for functions.