Jeannette Charles, Who Doubled for the Queen, Is Dead at 96

Jeannette Charles, who transformed a portrait rejected by a royal art show into a career as a Queen Elizabeth II look-alike in movies and on television, died on Tuesday in Great Baddow, England. She was 96 — the same age as the monarch when she died two years ago.

“Mum was a real character and a force of nature,” her daughter, Carol Christophi, said in announcing Mrs. Charles’s death, in a hospice. “She had an amazing life.”

Mrs. Charles first acted in small repertory roles in regional theater. But her uncanny resemblance to the queen distracted audiences, who giggled and guffawed when she appeared onstage.

That led to her playing the queen professionally — and for laughs — launching her on a career that lasted decades (until she retired in 2014 because of arthritis), if not quite as long as Elizabeth’s.

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

Mrs. Charles didn’t cravenly capitalize on her resemblance (she was two inches shorter than the queen), although she did take elocution lessons and learn to mimic the queen’s mannerisms.

“The best piece of advice I got was that when I was facing an audience, I should look over them, not at them,” she 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 that she considered risqué.

“I was offered a sketch by Sacha Baron Cohen,” she once said. “I won’t say what it was, but he wanted me to do something so offensive that I turned it down.” (She did disclose later, without elaborating, that Mr. Baron Cohen, as the character Ali G, had “asked me to drop my knickers as I got into a limousine.”)

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

Her career included invitations from foreign protocol officers to rehearse proper greetings before state visits by the real queen. And once, while performing a sketch for the British television show “The Goodies” in a lake near London, wearing a gown and tiara over a wet suit, she nearly drowned — she had forgotten to tell the director that she couldn’t swim.

Otherwise, her life was fairly mundane. Except, perhaps, for the fact that when fish died in her pond, she had a knack of administering the kiss of life and resuscitating them.

Jeannette Dorothea Louise Clark was born on Oct. 15, 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, at one time the 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 a waitress in her father’s restaurant. She had turned down a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art because her parents refused to pay the rest of the freight.

While working as an au pair in Texas, she met another English expatriate, Ken Charles, an engineer with British Petroleum. They married in 1957 and lived in Libya for a while until Muammar el-Qaddafi 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 herself as a birthday gift for her husband. It was shown briefly at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and stunned visitors, who assumed the woman in the painting was Elizabeth, until it was disqualified and removed: Paintings in the show were supposed to be based on real life, and Buckingham Palace informed organizers of the exhibition that the queen had not posed for this one.

But the resulting publicity enabled Mrs. Charles to make a living.

“They certainly never could have imagined the career that the portrait would lead to,” her 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 through the window of the monarch’s Rolls-Royce.

The queen “froze, staring, hand immobile 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 cataclysmic.”

She was so respectful of the monarchy that once, when she was invited to a banquet for a charity of which the Queen Mother was a patron, she asked the organizer of the affair to ask the royal family’s approval. She said a spokesman replied, “Mrs. Charles is a delightful lady, and we have never had cause to pass judgment on the way she conducts herself.”

“To me,” she said, “it felt like a royal accolade.”

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