Jeannette Charles, Queen Elizabeth II lookalike who forged a 40-year comic career – obituary (2024)

Jeannette Charles, who has died aged 96, was the world’s best-known lookalike, founding a full-time career on her astonishing resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II.

For more than 40 years Jeannette Charles proved to be a satisfactory alternative to the real Queen at innumerable charity events, supermarket openings, prize-givings and the like, lending a convincingly regal air to proceedings.

Although such work was her bread and butter, she became a nationally recognised figure in the 1970s through her appearances on television chat shows and comedies, and later portrayed the Queen in several films, including National Lampoon’s European Vacation and Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Her outstanding film appearance was in The Naked Gun (1988), in which Leslie Nielsen’s incompetent Lt Frank Drebin, mistakenly thinking that the Queen is about to be assassinated, tries to shove her to safety and sends them both skidding along the length of a banqueting table. George Kennedy, as Drebin’s boss, commiserates with him over the press coverage: “What is journalism coming to? You’re laying on top of the Queen with her legs wrapped around you, and they call that news.”

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She was a regular on Spike Milligan’s Q television series, recalling that he would always bow to her and address her as “Your Maj” even off-set. One skit for The Goodies almost finished her off. Wearing a gown and tiara over a wetsuit, she was filming at Ruislip Lido, having neglected to tell the director she could not swim, she had to be pulled from the water half-drowned.

Her other appearances ranged from Saturday Night Live in the US to The Sooty Show, and in a sketch broadcast one Christmas Day shortly before 3pm, Roland Rat came across her frantically trying to finish writing her speech.

Jeannette Charles became so associated with the Queen that she even travelled abroad at the invitation of foreign governments so that officials could rehearse greetings and protocol with her ahead of visits by the real monarch. A less dignified offer came from Playboy, which proffered £10,000 for her to pose as the Queen in a centrefold photoshoot.

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Jeannette Charles was a staunch Royalist who would always defend the Queen and her family to journalists and others. “I almost get into fights,” she said. “[But] if ever I get uptight with anyone I just ask them to leave the room or say ‘Off with his head’.”

On one occasion she was reluctant to attend a banquet for a charity of which the Queen Mother was a patron, and asked the organiser to sound out Clarence House. An equerry replied: “Mrs Charles is a delightful lady and we have never had cause to pass judgment on the way she conducts herself.” “To me,” she recalled, “it felt like a royal accolade.”

She was born in London on October 15 1927, some 18 months after the birth of Princess Elizabeth. Her father was a soldier and cook who was personal chef to Field Marshal Alexander and later a restaurateur; her mother was from a Dutch Jewish family.

She began to realise that she had a famous double when boys would shout “Princess Elizabeth” at her when she walked home from school. After Wembley High School she worked as a typist but longed to act, and switched to waitressing at her father’s restaurant while appearing with amateur groups.

She was forced to turn down the offer of a scholarship from Rada after her parents refused any financial support. She became aware, too, that her ever-increasing resemblance to the Princess was distracting audiences when she appeared on stage.

She decided to emigrate instead, and worked as an au pair in Texas. There she met a fellow English expat, Ken Charles, an engineer with British Petroleum. They married in 1957 and she settled down to life as a housewife and mother back in England.

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In 1972 she commissioned the artist Jane Thornhill to paint her as a gift for her husband’s birthday. The painting was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and visitors were astonished to discover that the sitter was not the Queen.

A feature in The Daily Express headlined “No, she’s NOT the Queen” led Jeannette Charles to be inundated with interview requests. Her photograph appeared in newspapers around the world, and she became a nine days’ wonder without receiving a penny for the privilege. She decided to capitalise on her bizarre sudden fame by joining a talent agency.

Jeannette Charles’s resemblance to the Queen only grew over the years. She was once asked to leave the New York restaurant Jack Dempsey’s because a crowd had assembled to gawp at her through the window.

Asked to make a surprise gold-disc presentation to Alice Cooper after one of his concerts, she “turned up in my full regalia [and] he fell on one knee with his head bowed. He… was taken in completely.”

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Only once did Jeannette Charles glimpse the Queen in person, through the window of her Rolls-Royce, and hoped never to repeat the experience. As she recalled in her autobiography The Queen and I (1986), the waving monarch “froze, staring, hand immobile in the air as our eyes met from a distance of a couple of feet… When you see your doppelganger, the effect is cataclysmic… If the sighting affected her as it affected me, she must have felt shattered.”

Jeannette Charles was a hard worker – “I am not the nicest of people at weekends as I can never figure out what to do” – who took great pride in her garden and her fish pond, and claimed to have successfully revived expiring fish with the kiss of life. She retired in 2014.

With her husband, who predeceased her, she had a daughter and two sons.

Jeannette Charles, born October 15 1927, died June 2 2024

Jeannette Charles, Queen Elizabeth II lookalike who forged a 40-year comic career – obituary (2024)
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