Queen Elizabeth II turns 80 on April 21. In her 54 years on the throne, Her Majesty has presided over the emergence of a diverse and modern Britain, seen her family become tabloid fodder and declined all interview requests. Her third child, Prince Andrew, 46, a former Royal Navy pilot, sat with TIME's Catherine Mayer and J.F.O. McAllister at Buckingham Palace to discuss his mother's job, her love of horses and the time a footman pulled a chair out from under her.
How would you describe your mother's job? Is it a job, a role, a life, a vocation?
It's all of those things. It's impossible to describe, but it's almost a responsibility for all the people of the United Kingdom, regardless of race, color or creed, and an understanding that you have an individual connection with each and every one.
How do you explain her continuing popularity?
It's slightly complicated for people to grasp the idea of a head of state in human form, but I would put her appeal down to consistency. In their eyes, she has never let them down. There's a sameness, but at the same time a vitality.
One of her advisers says that in modernizing the monarchy to keep it appealing to the public, her goal is "imperceptible change." It's not a goal, it's a way of life. This is a forward-looking organization. It's the nature of this business. For example, when the question arose whether I as a member of the royal family should take part in active combat in the Falklands, there was no question in her mind, though there was in other people's, and it only took her two days to sort the issue.
What kind of manager is she?
The Queen's intelligence network is a hell of a lot better than anyone's in this palace. Bar none. She knows everything. Everything. I don't know how she does it. And she sees everything.
Does she enjoy her work?
People say to me, "Would you like to swap your life with me for 24 hours? Your life must be very strange." But of course I have not experienced any other life. It's not strange to me. The same way with the Queen. She has never experienced anything else. That life, that knowledge, that wisdom is purely natural to her.
Are you trying to get her to slow down?
She is incredibly fit. But we remind staff that she's not just the monarch but our mother. There's no need to do six engagements in a day. You can achieve the same amount of connection and consistency at a different pace.
What does she most enjoy doing off duty?
She manages her racehorses and the breeding program. Her knowledge is just astronomic. She has a genealogical brain. Sarah [Ferguson, Andrew's former wife] will talk to me about someone and I don't know who she's talking about, but if she talks to my mother, the two of them will know exactly and across several generations too.
Does the Queen like the country Britain has become?
You, I, we all encounter behaviors that we might say, "I wouldn't do that," or "I don't understand why people do that." But she has a huge amount of contact with how people live. She sees more hospices and sink estates [blighted housing projects] than most people. And on something like drugs, she will know someone who has been affected. But whether she likes or dislikes is immaterial.
What does she want for her legacy?
I don't think she thinks like that. You're conceptualizing it too much in American presidential terms. She isn't legacy focused she's future focused. Today is reality. Yesterday is history. Her desire is not to change the future but to be there today.
Her friends say she is very funny. At a family dinner, she stood to go, and the footman very properly pulled her chair away. At that moment I asked her a question and she sat down again, except there was no chair. Everyone, including the Queen, laughed and laughed and of course she reassured the terrified footman he had done nothing wrong. Once when she was on a walkabout in Scotland, someone said to her, "You look just like the Queen!" She replied, "How reassuring."