Introducing the Balmoral Test: How the Royal Family find out if they like someone
Margaret Thatcher gets put through the test in the new series of the Crown
If there’s any lesson to be taken from Netflix’s the Crown, it’s that being part of the royal inner circle comes with a tangle of unspoken rules and protocols. It stands to reason that you’ll need to grasp those if you want to really be accepted. That’s what we see in episode two, where the Thatcher Balmoral test takes place – with the royal family putting the Prime Minister through her paces.
Yes, the royal family have initiations – but unlike uni rugby clubs they don’t involve drinking sick through a sock. Instead, they take place at a Scottish castle with rolling grounds. In the show, Thatcher fails and Diana passes. But how true is this to reality?
What is the Margaret Thatcher Balmoral test, and is it real?
Balmoral is the Queen’s Scottish castle, where she spends summers. It’s played host to endless famous faces, but also to the Balmoral Test – a name shared by the second episode of the Crown’s fourth season, and by the legendary royal initiation.
Both Diana and Margaret Thatcher are put through the test in the show, as a way of the family deciding if
The test is real. Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told the Express: “An invitation to Balmoral is traditionally part of the initiation into the Royal Family.”
Interviews with Diana reveal a key part of the test is having the royal wherewithal not to sit in a chair last used by Queen Victoria. If you sit in the chair, Diana biographer Andrew Morton writes, the family will shout “Don’t sit there” at you, and immediately know you’re scum.
“Those who successfully navigate this social minefield, popularly known as ‘the Balmoral test,’ are accepted by the royal family,” writes Morton.
“The ones who fail vanish from royal favour as quickly as the Highland mists come and go.”
But it’s not just the chair. You’re expected to have an outfit for every occasion – from dining to hunting – as well as eat the food whether you like it or not. When you’re taken hunting, don’t moan if it’s raining. Just be a good guest and have good manners, basically. Probably best not to drink the soup from the bowl or try and play odds on with Prince Philip.
When Diana took the test, she was “shitting bricks”, she revealed to a biographer. However, by all accounts she did okay. The Crown diverges from real life in that she didn’t go shooting with Prince Philip.
“The anticipation was worse than actually being there. I was all right once I got in through the front door,” she said. Diana passes the initiation and is allowed to play for Winsdor firsts.
The Margaret Thatcher Balmoral test that we see, however, goes slightly worse. She’s out of her depth and doesn’t pick up on the subtle social clues. Wrong outfits, awkward conversation, and a failure to grasp protocol marked the Iron Lady out as a wrongun. She even wears blue! When everyone else is wearing earthy greens!
And yet, we don’t know what relation this bears to reality. Thatcher never mentioned the Balmoral test – although she reportedly did have to borrow wellies whenever she went to the castle.
Other famous faces have also struggled in the Balmoral test, says Bazaar.com’s Omid Scobie: “Out of those privileged enough to have been invited to Balmoral Castle during the summer, not everyone has passed. Diana famously flew through it, thanks to her aristocratic background and upbringing, but the likes of Cherie Blair and our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, have not.”
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