TORONTO - The Queen Mother "fell in love with Canada" during her first trip to the country in the summer of 1939, says William Shawcross, author of a new official biography on the late royal consort.
"Canada became her favourite country in the world after Britain," the London-based journalist said Tuesday in an interview to talk about "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Official Biography," now on shelves.
The 1,120-page tome, which Shawcross calls the "most important and the most absorbing and most delightful" project of his career, contains several references to the Queen Mother's adoration of Canada and its people.
The first is her friendship as a teenager with Canadian Lt. J.S. Reynolds, one of the wounded soldiers at Glamis Castle.
Before Reynolds left England, he went to visit her with roses to say goodbye, Shawcross writes, but she was still in bed.
"I was so sad at not seeing him ... he is so nice and wild.
!" she wrote in a letter that's quoted in the book.
The Queen Mum's first trip to Canada in 1939 with her husband, King George VI, made her "fall in love" with the country, says Shawcross, noting she came here about 15 more times and loved going to the Queen's Plate thoroughbred horse races in Toronto.
During one trip to Canada in the 1980s, a severe electrical storm forced the pilots of her flight from Regina to Edmonton to make a sudden landing at a military base called Cold Lake in northeastern Alberta.
Shawcross said the commandant at Cold Lake only had 10 minutes to prepare for the Queen Mother's arrival and "they rushed around tidying up the offices."
"She came down the steps of the plane into this very obscure place saying: 'Ah, Cold Lake, I've wanted to come here all my life!"' Shawcross said with a howl.
"And the officer in charge was absolutely stunned by this and repeated it ever after as an example of her extraordinary charm and ability to conquer all that she met.
"She loved it because in the Royal Family it's more fun when things go wrong. Usually everything runs like clockwork."
Shawcross started his research in July 2003 after receiving a letter from the Queen's private secretary asking him to write the biography.
"I was over the moon, of course, because as the official biographer you get completely unique access to all the private papers of the Royal Family," said Shawcross, who made a series of films for the BBC called "Queen and Country" in 2002, the same year the Queen Mother died at age 101.
"The Queen basically said: 'Look, you can write whatever you want' ... She took the view that if you appoint an official biographer, you have to trust that person and assume that it's going to be OK."
The private papers Shawcross had access to included the Queen Mother's intimate diaries and letters to members of her family, household and staff, most of which are preserved at the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.
In letters written by the Queen Mum - born Elizabeth Bowes Lyon - she called her mom "Darling Sweetie Lovie Mother," and in correspondence during her teen years, she often gushed over handsome actors, sailors and soldiers.
Shawcross got to meet the Queen Mother a couple of times in the 1990s, but said the spirited nature he sensed in her letters was a "revelation" to him.
"She had not only good handwriting but she had a wonderfully joyous and jubilant way of expressing herself," said Shawcross, who has written several books of non-fiction and for publications such as the Sunday Times and the Washington Post.
But Shawcross did have to run the manuscript by the Queen before it went to print.
"She pointed out two very serious mistakes," said Shawcross. "I got the names of two of her mother's racehorses wrong so I corrected them of course."
As for what the Queen thought of the book, Shawcross said he doesn't know, but he assumes "that she thinks it's OK because if she had felt that other things were wrong she would have said so."
"But for her it must be hard," he added. "I wouldn't like to give over my entire family's papers to somebody to write the biography of my parents. It would be very nerve-wracking, I think.
"I said to the lady-in-waiting, 'I hope that she's enjoying it,' and this lady-in-waiting said, 'How could you be so silly, William? How could she possibly be enjoying reading 100 years of stories about her mother? Why would be it be enjoyable?"'