Jeannette Charles, the Queen's voice actress, has died at 96

Jeannette Charles, who turned a rejected portrait from a royal art exhibition into a career as a Queen Elizabeth II lookalike in film and television, died Tuesday in Great Baddow, England. She was 96, the same age as the monarch when she died two years ago.

“Mother was a real character and a force of nature,” said her daughter, Carol Christophi, announcing Mrs. Charles' death in a hospice. “She had a great life.”

Ms. Charles first acted in small repertory roles in regional theater. But her uncanny resemblance to the queen distracted the audience, who giggled and sneered when she appeared on stage.

This led to her playing the Queen professionally – and for laughs – launching her into a career that lasted decades (until she retired in 2014 due to arthritis), if not as long as Elizabeth's.

She played the Queen in films such as “The Naked Gun,” “National Lampoon's European Vacation” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” She has appeared in character everywhere from an episode of “Saturday Night Live” to supermarket openings.

Mrs. Charles did not cowardly capitalize on her resemblance (she was two inches shorter than the Queen), although she took elocution lessons and learned to imitate the Queen's mannerisms.

“The best advice I received was that when I was in front of an audience, I should look at them, not look at them,” he told the Daily Express in 2017.

Mrs Charles was, her daughter said, “always respectful of the queen and adored the royal family”, which is why she rejected roles she considered risky.

“I was offered a Sacha Baron Cohen sketch,” he once said. “I won't say what it was, but he wanted me to do something so offensive that I refused.” (He later revealed, without providing further details, that Mr. Baron Cohen, as the character Ali G, had “asked me to lower my underwear as I got into a limo.”)

In “The Naked Gun” (1988), she allowed Leslie Nielsen, playing bungling detective Frank Drebin, to slide her across a table to thwart what she suspected was an attempted murder. Drebin's boss, played by George Kennedy, consoled him about the ensuing press coverage: “What is journalism coming to? You're lying on top of the queen with her legs wrapped around you, and that's the news.”

Her career included invitations from foreign protocol officers to rehearse proper greetings before state visits from the real Queen. And once, while she was performing a sketch for the British TV show “The Goodies” in a lake near London, wearing a dress and tiara over a wetsuit, she nearly drowned: she had forgotten to tell the director that she didn't he knew how to swim.

Otherwise, his life was pretty mundane. Except, perhaps, that when the fish died in her pond, she had the ability to administer the kiss of life and resurrect them.

Jeannette Dorothea Louise Clark was born on 15 October 1927, 18 months after Princess Elizabeth, in London. Her father, Alfred, was a soldier and cook who was personal chef to Field Marshal Harold Alexander, once governor general of Canada, and who later became a restaurateur; her mother, Yetta (Wonsoff) Clark, was a Dutch immigrant from Poland.

After high school, Jeannette worked as a typist and waitress in her father's restaurant. She had turned down a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art because her parents refused to pay the rest of her transport.

While working as an au pair in Texas, she met another English expat, Ken Charles, an engineer for British Petroleum. They married in 1957 and lived in Libya for a while until Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup in 1969. They had three children.

Mr. Charles died in 1997. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, David and Peter, and four grandchildren.

In 1972, Mrs. Charles commissioned a portrait of him as a birthday present for her husband. It was shown briefly at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and amazed visitors, who assumed the woman in the painting was Elizabeth, until it was disqualified and removed: the paintings in the exhibition were supposed to be based on real life, and Buckingham Palace informed the organizers of the shows that the queen had not posed for this.

But the resulting publicity allowed Mrs. Charles to earn a living.

“They certainly could never have imagined the career the portrait would lead to,” his daughter said.

Mrs. Charles never met the Queen, but, she wrote in her autobiography, “The Queen and I” (1986), they once gaped at each other from the window of the monarch's Rolls-Royce.

The queen “stood, staring, her hand motionless in the air as our eyes met from a distance of a couple of feet,” Mrs. Charles wrote. “When you see your doppelgänger, the effect is catastrophic.”

She was so respectful of the monarchy that once, when invited to a banquet for a charity of which the Queen Mother was a patron, she asked the event organizer to seek the approval of the royal family. She said a spokesperson responded: “Mrs. Charles is a delightful woman and we have never had any reason to make any judgments about the way she conducts herself.”

“For me,” he said, “it felt like real recognition.”

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