Jeannette Charles, British actor best known for playing Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 96

Jeannette Charles and Elizabeth II  (Rex/Getty)
Jeannette Charles and Elizabeth II (Rex/Getty)

Actor Jeannette Charles, best known for her striking resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II, has died at the age of 96.

Charles died at a hospice in Great Baddow, Essex, England, her daughter Carol Christophi said.

“Mum was a real character and a force of nature. She had an amazing life,” Christophi said.

“She was always respectful of the queen and adored the royal family.” Queen Elizabeth II also died at 96, in September 2022.

Charles was born on 15 October 1927, around 18 months after Elizabeth II, and spent over four decades playing her on TV and cinemas until she retired in 2014.

“Ever since I can remember, I have been told I looked like the young Princess Elizabeth, and this carried on as we both grew up,” she said.

She has written in the past about how she started playing a lookalike in the 1970s, and that her resemblance to the late queen worked against her desire to be an actor, until she decided to turn it around to her favour.

“Before I had children, I’d worked as an au pair and a typist, but I’d always wanted to act. I’d been in amateur productions, had elocution lessons and even passed an audition for Rada,” she wrote in an essay for The Guardian in 2022.

Jeannette Charles in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (Warner Bros)
Jeannette Charles in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (Warner Bros)

“But the fees were too expensive, plus my looks counted against me – no matter what role I took on, I’d hear comments from the audience, and sometimes even laughter.

“Over the next 40 years, I appeared on TV chat shows, opened supermarkets, assisted magicians and shot adverts all over the world.

“Bands wanted me for music videos, and I handed out gifts with Liberace and presented a silver disc to the band Queen.”

In another interview, Charles recalled when her resemblance to Elizabeth II was first noticed – on a holiday in 1971.

“I think the first time I was recognised was on a trip [in 1971] to Capri in Italy, with my Italian pen friend Florence. Someone shouted ‘Princess Elizabeth’ in Italian, my friend explained her majesty had been to visit the island recently, and they thought I was her,” she said in a 2012 interview.

Charles described the work that went into her perfecting her role, with elocution lessons and rehearsing mannerisms.

“I focused on three main areas: entering, talking and leaving. The best piece of advice I got was that when I was facing an audience, I should look over them, not at them. That stood me in good stead,” Charles told the Daily Express in 2017.

Playing the queen, she first appeared in shows like Rutland Weekend Television, a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live, 1978 telefilm The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, and also appeared in The Benny Hill Show, Spike Milligan’s Q6, MythBusters, and Big Brother.

Her most notable roles have been in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), Naked Gun (1988), and opposite Mike Myers as Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).

Jeannette Charles Austin Powers In Goldmember (New Line Cinema)
Jeannette Charles Austin Powers In Goldmember (New Line Cinema)

However, Charles has said that she didn’t accept every role she was offered, and being a “staunch royalist,” she never took on a part that “would reflect badly on the monarch or myself”.

“Over the years I’ve turned down large sums to pose for Page 3-type pictures, and insisted I should never be introduced as the Queen when making appearances,” she wrote in her essay.

“I don’t think anyone else had earned a living by resembling someone famous before — now there’s a whole industry.”

She spoke about a role offered by English actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen that was too “offensive” for her liking.

“I was offered a sketch by Sacha Baron Cohen,” she said.

“I won’t say what it was, but he wanted me to do something so offensive that I turned it down. If I hadn’t had the utmost respect for royalty, I don’t think I would have been given the jobs I have been.”

Charles published her autobiography The Queen and I, in 1986.

While Charles never admitted if she ever met the queen, she hinted in an interview that there may have been some sort of interaction between the two.

“Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t have been doing this for as long as I have if she wasn’t.”