I’m not obsessed with the British royal family, but I’d describe my interest level as “more than casual.” I got up before dawn in 2011 to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton, I can draw up a reasonably accurate family tree from memory, and despite never having been to England I’ve amassed quite a collection of royal memorabilia, including a cardboard mask of the Queen’s face.
So when a fellow Cosmopolitan.com editor put out a call for volunteers to experiment living like Queen Elizabeth II for a week, I joked that I’d do it if I could have corgis. I figured it would be easy — what does the Queen even do all day that I don’t already know about?
A lot, as it turns out. I began my journey by attending a tea service the Plaza Hotel with royal expert Robert Lacey, whose latest book The Crown is the official companion to the Netflix series of the same name. Although I knew a few of the basics — the corgis, her love for equestrianism — Lacey gave me a ton of additional options to include in my schedule. Between cocktails, racing pigeons, and investitures, I’d be a royal in no time.
Day 1: Sitting for an Official Portrait
As the reigning monarch of a world power, the Queen has had to sit for many portraits in her lifetime. I enlisted my very talented friend, Jon, as the artist, and he’d already sent me a Pinterest board’s worth of royal inspo.
Almost immediately, I derailed the activity with my distinct lack of royal poise. The original plan was to go over to Jon’s house after picking up a canvas and some paints. What actually happened is that Jon and I went barhopping the night before and watched Black Mirror till 4 a.m., at which point he let me sleep over on his couch. This meant that I did not buy art supplies — and also looked hungover when we did test shots.
After wiping off the previous night’s mascara, Jon made coffee, and I was arranged in makeshift royal finery. The winning combination was a deep red curtain worn as a cape, a blue bedsheet draped over my legs like a dress, some plastic gold chains, and a faux-fur collar of mysterious origin.
Jon took his duties very seriously, and after about an hour and a half, he thought he had enough to paint me like one of his English girls. I was bored, tired, and thirsty. We agreed that I’d buy him a canvas during the week and deliver it to his office, but I never did that because I never found time to go to the art supply store, stalling my royal portrait forever. It’s hard to be the Queen when you have a full-time job and have no assistants to run your errands — but I did buy Jon a beer that night, so I guess that still makes me his patron.
Day 2: Gin Cocktails and Soap Operas
Day 2 of my journey fell on a Monday, which meant I had to go to work and do stuff besides ceremonially knight people. It was terrible! But I did spend much of the day thinking about what fun I’d have doing my next Queen activity — drinking cocktails and watching soap operas at home.
According to royal sources, the Queen’s favorite cocktail is gin with Dubonnet, a fortified wine I previously had never heard of. She supposedly drinks one of these every day before lunch. Because I don’t work at Sterling Cooper, I had mine around 8 p.m.
It was, in a word, disgusting. I’ve never liked gin, and the only word I can think of to describe the taste of Dubonnet is “medicinal.” I drank about half of it and threw the rest in the sink.
The second part of my evening was more successful. Lacey told me that the Queen winds down at night by watching soap operas, and I am nothing if not a champion watcher of television. Because he also said she doesn’t like to watch programs about herself, I decided to watch Outlander instead of The Crown. I’m not sure this choice was any better, given that Outlander is all about rowdy Scots trying to overthrow their English oppressors, but I felt like the Queen would let that slide in the face of Sam Heughan.
Day 3: Frolicking With Corgis
The Queen’s love for corgis is legendary, and although the photo team couldn’t get real dogs for me, they ordered two very nice plush ones instead. I named them Jaime and Cersei and carried them around the office like furry babies. I did get some strange looks when building managers caught me carrying the corgis to the printer, but it wasn’t as bad as the time the mail guy saw me making GIFs of the Jon/Daenerys sex scene from Game of Thrones.
At home that night, I mixed another gin and Dubonnet, but this time I loved it and drank the entire glass. Did I just really need a cocktail and decide it was too cold to go out and get anything else besides the ingredients I already had on hand? Maybe — but I still counted it as a victory.
Day 4: Riding a Horse
The Queen has been riding horses since she was a child and still rides now at age 91. Aside from the occasional pony ride at childhood birthday parties, I’d never ridden a horse, so this was going to be a challenge. I booked a morning lesson with Brooklyn’s Kensington Stables and wore my finest equestrian gear: jeans, Dr. Martens, and a sweatshirt with a horse on it.
I tried to play it cool when my friendly instructor, Sierra, asked if I was nervous but I gave it all away when I squealed in terror as soon as the horse took one step forward. Do you know how big horses are? Really big.
Anyway, Sierra led my horse — named Lieutenant, who, no joke, had failed out of the police academy — and me to Prospect Park for a basic lesson on things like “how to not fall off.” Sierra taught me how to place my feet in the stirrups, how to hold the reins, and how to tell Lieutenant I wanted him to go straight or turn. We went in slow loops around a clearing for maybe 20 minutes until I felt like I was getting the hang of it. Nothing will make you feel regal like riding a horse for no reason in the middle of a work day.
But then the unthinkable happened: a passing golden retriever barked at Lieutenant, and he lost it. In hindsight, I think he sped up maybe 2 percent from our approximate pace of “it’ll take you three months to get to Winterfell,” but in the moment, it felt like he was going 70 mph. I let out a full-fledged scream, but Sierra calmed down Lieutenant almost instantly, and we resumed our leisurely circles. Khal Drogo, I am not, but I had a great time and kind of want to go again.
Day 5: Strolling in Nature
When the Queen isn’t meeting with prime ministers or making official royal appearances, Lacey told me she likes to go for nature walks. If I liked nature I would live somewhere with more reasonably priced real estate, so I knew this one would also be difficult. (During weekend getaways with friends, I’ve been known to watch TV while everyone else goes hiking.)
The day coincided with my Queen photo shoot, one picture of which would be taken in Central Park, aka NYC’s preeminent nature zone. Perfect, I thought. I’ll just walk around and look at leaves or whatever when I’m done. I suited up in my “Queen walking the corgis” look, grabbed Jaime and Cersei, and headed outside.
The editors posed me in a fenced-off clearing that had a “DON’T WALK ON THE GRASS” sign on it, so we had to work quickly so we didn’t get busted by park cops — something tells me they wouldn’t have accepted “she’s the Queen” as a reasonable excuse for breaking the rules. I didn’t love the strange looks my wig and my corgis were attracting, so I looked at one tree and hightailed it out of there. I began to understand the downsides of having your picture taken in public when you’re not feeling it.
Lacey also told me the Queen dutifully says her prayers before bed. I planned to do this as one of my daily activities, thinking I’d say at least some sort of sacrilegious prayer to Beyoncé about how thankful I am to be alive at the same time as she is. In reality, I forgot to do it every night, even though I set “say your prayers” phone reminders for each evening.
Day 6: Leisure Photography
On Day 6, I got to live my best Queen life, or at least what I imagined to be my best Queen life. I had the day off, and after sleeping in late, I took myself on a date to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. None of these things were specifically Elizabeth-like that I knew of, but I planned to incorporate one of her favorite activities, leisure photography, into my day. Without a real camera on hand, I decided to make do with my iPhone.
At the Met, I went to an exhibit of David Hockney, who — fun fact — is British and was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. I passed through the exhibit once and went back through a second time for “photography” purposes, but my pictures turned out bad, because they were taken on an iPhone. I had planned to go for an evening nature stroll in Central Park, but when I left the museum it was so cold that I went home and covered myself in about 43 blankets.
Back in Brooklyn, I made myself another gin and Dubonnet, but the magic from Day 3 had worn off, and once again I threw it out after two sips. Fortified wine is just not for me.
Day 7: Studying the Constitution
I planned my entire Queen week around Day 7, which was supposed to be a day at the racetrack. In addition to being an accomplished rider of horses, the Queen is also a racer of horses and has reportedly earned almost $9 million in prize money. But when the appointed day arrived, it snowed. I didn’t even bother to check if the races had been canceled — even if they hadn’t been, there was no way in hell I was going to sit outside and get snowed on to watch a bunch of horses I don’t even own.
So I did my backup activity instead — studying the Constitution. As seen on The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II felt it was important for her to understand the government, even if her role was largely ceremonial. As her proxy for the week, I felt I also should learn something. I managed to do this for about a half hour before my eyes glazed over from boredom, although I did retain a few facts.
Later in the evening, a few of my friends came over for a tree-trimming party, which took some unexpected royal turns — like when we decided the mulled wine was actually kind of gross, we started drinking gin and Dubonnet, just because it was there.
The biggest lesson is that it’s hard to be a ceremonial figurehead when you have to go to work every day, but I also learned that I don’t want to be a ceremonial figurehead, even if it means I get to have a pack of corgis. Free time for nature strolling is probably nice if you’re into that, but is it worth having your picture taken by strangers whenever you go outside? I’d say no. But perhaps I’d feel differently if the Queen’s lunchtime cocktail was something less gross than gin and Dubonnet.