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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Gent Who Drives Her Majesty

Driving the British queen is as much about manners as it is about motors. And chauffeur David Griffin has the job down pat: He smooths over the significance of potholes, laughs when he means no comment, and blushes becomingly when asked about royal hanky-panky in the back of the Rolls.


Griffin, who has spent 27 years as a Buckingham Palace chauffeur, is just as composed when it comes to discussing the big boss herself, Queen Elizabeth II, whom he will be transporting during her upcoming visit to Russia.


It's not your average working relationship -- he calls her "your Majesty," she calls him "Griffin" -- but he and the queen nonetheless operate on what he calls friendly terms.


"Sometimes she gets in the car and says, 'Good morning, Griffin,' and sometimes she doesn't say anything," he said, smiling. "We talk, but I never start a conversation. You never, ever start a conversation with her."


Griffin, who arrived in Russia several days ahead of the monarch, was on hand Thursday at the Moscow salon of Rolls-Royce Motors, where a pair of stunning Phantom VI limousines were enjoying a rare public appearance. The cars, part of the royal family's five-Phantom fleet, were specially shipped to Russia for the queen's visit.


State 1 and State 2, as they are called, are the newest additions -- 1977 and 1960 models, respectively -- and both feature high roof lines and sweeping rear windows, a must for unimpaired queen-viewing. All of the Phantoms come in a deep burgundy: Royal Claret, the same color as the queen's riding outfit and not available to plebeian Rolls-Royce purchasers. Each has the royal coat of arms prominently displayed above their windshields.


The interiors are spacious: Up to four people can fit into the back. But they are surprisingly spartan. In State 1, there's not a portable phone or mini-bar in sight, just a clock, a radio and a rather clunky looking tape player.


"The queen rarely listens to music," Griffin said. "When she does, she likes a variety, just like everybody else."


Griffin, who drives a Nissan Prairie and a 1977 Vauxhall Victor when he is not on the job, said his personal favorite among the royal cars is the oldest: No. 5, a 1949 Phantom IV presented by the Royal Air Force to the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in honor of their wedding. "It still runs perfectly," he said.


None of the cars, he maintained, were armored for protection. "It's a three-ton automobile already. If you armored it it would be seven tons," he said. "There's no need for her Majesty to drive around in an armored car."


Security measures for the queen's Russian visit were "no more and no less" than for any other state visit, he added.


During the processional drives that will take place in Russia, Griffin said, State 1 and State 2 will be preceded by police-escort cars or bikes and followed by the "suite" car, in which Douglas Hurd, the British foreign secretary, will ride. Griffin himself will be dressed in his traditional navy uniform and hat, which he raises as the queen enters and leaves the automobile.


Once on the road, it's the queen who sets the pace. The State 1 can reach a top speed of 110 miles per hour, Griffin said, but it's rarely put to the test.


"The queen likes to go slowly, especially when there are crowds, or children, who can be unpredictable," he said. "She likes to see and be seen."