Queen Elizabeth II's lookalike passes away at 96: Who was Jeannette Charles?

Queen Elizabeth II’s lookalike, Jeannette Charles, passed away on 2 June 2024. The woman who once got a nod of approval from the Queen Mother, made a career out of her resemblance and travelled the world for it.

Queen Elizabeth II Jeannette Charles lookalike death
© John Downing / GETTY IMAGES
Queen Elizabeth II Jeannette Charles lookalike death

Kings and Queens carry a certain aura with them. On top of that their faces are easily recognisable. For instance, Queen Elizabeth’s was on banknotes, coins and souvenirs in shops all around the country, almost impossible to escape. Her face was also included in pop culture through portraits made by artists such as Andy Warhol and official portraits shared by the Palace were strategically placed in institutions.

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With a face so iconic, Queen Elizabeth was recognised everywhere. But she wasn’t the only one. One other woman in the UK was also being recognised everywhere… Jeannette Charles. Why, you might ask? Well because the woman was a copy of the Queen.

Jeannette Charles’s life before Queen Elizabeth

The Telegraph and The Guardian, in their obituaries, explain that from a very early age, Jeannette Charles was mistaken for the royal. The woman explained to The Guardian in May 2022 that when she was 11 or 12, a photographer stopped her and asked her parents if she could do a photoshoot with him. According to Charles, the photographer said:

She looks like Princess Elizabeth.

However, Charles didn’t really start doing anything with her resemblance until much later in life. Before fame found her, Jeannette Charles worked as an ‘au pair’ and a ‘typist’ (a fancy word for secretary). However, in her piece for The Guardian she explained that she had always dreamt of being an actress. The dream was crushed when she had to turn down a spot at RADA because she couldn’t afford the tuition.

While she was an au pair in Texas, Jeannette met Ken Charles, an engineer. The two got married in 1957 and moved back to England after their wedding – Jeannette became a housewife and mother putting her dream fully behind her.

A portrait that changed Jeannette Charles’ life

In 2022, Jeannette reminisced about her rise to fame and wrote:

My career as the Queen’s lookalike might never have come about if I hadn’t come across an advert in the local paper in 1972. Stuck for ideas for my husband Ken’s birthday, I read about artist Jane Thornhill’s portrait-painting service and thought, “Why not?”

When the portrait was done, Thornhill wanted to show it at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. And that’s when it happened! The Academy was convinced Thornhill’s work was a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and rang Buckingham Palace who said the monarch had never been in touch with the painter. Because of that, the piece was disqualified as ‘portraits in the exhibition had to be painted from life’.

But, when the painter came to collect her work, Jeannette wrote that she was welcomed by ‘journalists’. They all wanted to know who the woman in the painting was. An agent contacted Jeannette who, by then, was in her forties. On that change of path, the woman remembered:

[...] when the agent approached me, I realised there might be a way of making my resemblance to the Queen work in my favour.

Ads, movies and even state visits

Jeannette started making appearances in ads, movies, sketches and much more. Her career as an actress flourished. However, she explained in 2022 that she always approached such work with respect for the person she was impersonating:

I’ve always been a staunch royalist and respect the Queen – I would never do anything that reflected badly on the monarch or myself.

In their obituary, The Telegraph also tells the story of politicians hiring Jeannette in order to ‘rehearse greetings and protocol with her ahead of visits by the real monarch.’

The real consecration came when the Queen Mother gave what Jeannette considered to be a real ‘royal accolade’. Jeannette had been asked to attend a banquet for a charity for which Queen Elizabeth’s mother was a patron. That mere fact made Jeannette uncomfortable so she asked the organisers to ‘sound out Clarence House’. The response came through an equerry and read:

Mrs Charles is a delightful lady and we have never had cause to pass judgment on the way she conducts herself.

Jeannette and Queen Elizabeth II never officially met but their eyes once locked. The Queen was passing by in her Rolls-Royce when she laid eyes on her. In her biography published in 1986, Jeannette explained:

[Queen Elizabeth II] froze, staring, hand immobile in the air as our eyes met from a distance of a couple of feet… When you see your doppelganger, the effect is cataclysmic… If the sighting affected her as it affected me, she must have felt shattered.

Jeannette is survived by her daughter and two sons.

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The Guardian: Experience: I’ve been a Queen lookalike for 50 years

The Telegraph: Jeannette Charles, former au pair who forged a career out of her resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II – obituary

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