For many years, Jeannette Charles has been credited for her uncanny resemblance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Jeannette has made many an appearance in film, television and private venues. In 1995 Jeannette was featured in character in the Shining Time Family Special "Queen for a Day". We were graced to be able to talk with Mrs. Charles to reminisce about her appearance on Shining Time Station.
~ Interview compiled by J. Gratton from emails/phone call - Nov. 2012
Jeannette, what interested you to play a double for HM The Queen in film, television and special appearances?
As for deciding to be a double?? 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. As a young woman I was most interested in acting and loved the old movies and would try to spot the 'great 'stars like Vivian Lee and Lawrence Olivier in London. I did some reporatory theatre....life took over. I emigrated to the U.S.A. when I was 24 and I met my future husband there. His work with British Petroleum took him to Calgary, Alberta Canada where we married. We travelled and had our 3 children and it was not until I met Jane Thornhill that things started happening regarding my work as a lookalike.
In 1971 Jane Thornhill painted a portrait of me. It was a present for my husband's birthday. She wrote a weekly column in the local newspaper about how alike the Queen and I were. At that time researchers from T.V. studios were looking at local and National newspapers for stories about people who were interesting to interview on T.V. I had a phone call asking if I would like to be interviewed on the Russell Harty show (ITV).
The word 'Lookalike' was made up by a journalist who interviewed me. Some years later the first Lookalike agency opened. I have been told that this was the beginning of ordinary people becoming celebrities. I had acting lessons to perfect my performance as Queen, and I published an autobiography 'The Queen and I' in 1986 by Piatkus Publishing company*.
* ISBN: 0-86188-572-4 Copies of which can be found on Abebooks.
How did you become involved with Shining Time Station: Queen for a Day?
Shining Time Station came to me by way of a phone call from my agent.They had been contacted from Canada by Britt Allcroft. When I learned that it was part of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, I felt so honoured to be asked to be part of such a wonderful ongoing show for children. I've worked on children's shows in England and other countries with puppets and animations, but to be thought of and asked to be part of this show was absolutely out of this world.
What did you think of your role in the script?
It was a wonderful role for me and great fun. Playing a part where the Queen was almost unimportant was so different to what I was used to; from arriving at the station and not being met, to leaving the train, not being met, and walking a distance carrying my own suitcase!
HRM The Queen finds herself in a most unusual circumstance at Shining Time Station!
Was this your first time visiting Toronto and do you recall what time of year when you came over to tape your scenes?
Yes, this was my first time in Toronto, and it was quite an experience too. It's a long time ago, but it must've been sometime during the Spring. I remember that it wasn't too warm and it certainly wasn't too cold outside.
One action chase sequence is where you are riding in a motorcycle sidecar with actor Brian O'Connor (Schemer). What do you remember of filming that scene?
Sitting in the sidecar in the chase was a little scary for me, although everyone else thought it was quite funny. I'm used to scenes inside luxury trains and planes, and to be in this moving motorcycle sidecar was very frightening! My companion who was driving mistook it as a joke which wasn't very nice. He was laughing at me for being a little scared, and I was! Just the same, we made it to the end of that scene in one piece.
Can you share your memories of working with the cast & crew?
My memories of working with the cast and crew are simply wonderful. They were all so professional and helpful. From the Superintendent of the Railway (Mart Hulswit) to my little grandson (Andrew Sardella). I remember each and every one with great fondness. I worked with splendid people of professionalism.
Jeannette Charles has fond memories of co-star Mart Hulswit
What I remember most is actor Mart Hulswit who played J.B. King. He was tall, so I had to look up to him! Like myself, he had a parent from Holland, and we spent a lot of time together going out for lunch and visiting stores. He was very sweet and a good companion.
Did you cause anyone to have a double-take whilst you and Mart Hulswit were out exploring Toronto?
Because I had been seen as the Queen in my many years in the front, I felt that people did respect me. When I was walking with Mart and somebody would come up and say "Excuse me, are you the Queen?", I would only smile and hold out my hand to shake. Then I would walk away. When it was a little child asking if I was the Queen, I would also only smile, give them a little kiss, shake their hand and walk away. I never say that I am not the Queen. If they have a dream of meeting the Queen, then I leave them with that and walk away; If that mother wasn't sure, and that little child indeed thought I was the Queen, then why not leave them with that memory? I've never spoilt little children's memories.
There was a Corgi, "Queenie", owned by Midge Smoot featured in the special. Do you have have pets or a dog breed preference of your own?
The Corgis have always been good as they've always been with handlers. All of the Corgis I've ever worked with have been amazingly trained, and the one in Queen for a Day was no exception.
I don't have a dog now because I'm 85, but we've always owned Rottweillers. We had a Labrador who died, and one day I said to my husband that we've got to have a dog. We visited a dog breeder and there were dog breeds of every kind available, but I was attracted to this one darling little puppy. He was absolutely gorgeous. I said to my husband "That's it! I want that one!", but he said "No. You don't know how big they get." Of course this was years before the breed became popular, Rottweilers were working dogs mostly found in Germany.
The Queen and Queenie
We ended up taking the puppy home, and called him "Rocky". He grew, but we had him trained by a police dog trainer and he was absolutely perfect. He would never go for anyone and would do exactly what he was told. People used to come up to the house and ask to see this amazing dog.
You also made an appearance in another children's television show - Sooty in 1988. Do you enjoy comedic roles?
No, not really. I always think of the Queen and ask myself "Would she do that?" But when the shows are released or aired and I've spoken to my own children and other smaller children, they always exclaim how wonderful and marvellous it was. So what can you do? With children's programs there was a lot of laughing and pretending. Even now the children's programmes of yesteryear don't change. Thomas the Tank Engine is such a wonderful character, when will he ever see his demise? They can go on forever as long as they have a good script. Thomas is one of a kind just like Sooty, as was Shining Time Station; it incorporated real life and fantasy, and because of that adults enjoyed watching it too.
Jeannette Charles as herself in the Sooty episode "Royalty" (1988-Nov-29) which can be seen on YouTube.
Lastly, do you have any special message that you'd like to pass on to your fans of Queen for a Day'?
Keep on dreaming and enjoy the fantasy of yesterday, because those memories are lovely to have when you grow up and you think to yourself, "I remember that wonderful show Shining Time Station and oh, how I want to see it again!" May those memories never fade. Pass them on to your children. Imagination is a wonderful thing.
We'd like to express our thanks to Jeannette for sharing her memories with us, and we wish her all the best in her personal and work life. We'd also like to thank Mrs. Charles' longtime agent - Susan Scott, owner of Susan Scott Lookalikes for helping us get in touch with her, and to daughter Carol for arranging a special telephone appointment with her mother. :)
Group Photo of Queen for a Day Cast & Crew (courtesy Shelley Camm)