‘The Balmoral Test’ is the ultimate royal trial taken by Diana, Kate Middleton & Margaret Thatcher – so who flunked it?

THE royals and UK Prime Ministers may get to stay in a sprawling castle each year – but life at Balmoral is certainly not a holiday for some. 

Season four of The Crown dedicates an episode to “The Balmoral Test” – in honour of the unspoken code of conduct that all guests go through at the Scottish retreat. 

In the episode, the suburban Margaret Thatcher and husband Denis secure an invite to Balmoral, as is tradition for PMs, but she fails miserably at the “test”. 

Meanwhile, a young Diana arrives just as Maggie ends her less-than-impressive stay, but passes with flying colours. 

So what do visitors need to do to survive the test?

Guests are apparently expected to join in with outdoor sports (mainly field sports), and have to change their outfit up to five times a day. 

They also need to throw themselves into the party games, eating and drinking with enthusiasm – all without making any slip-up comments to Her Majesty.

In The Crown, Margaret falls at the first hurdle by forgetting any outdoor shoes, and subsequently nipping off to work for most of the trip. 

The royal family is said to have found this distasteful – with Thatcher also likening her visits to “purgatory” and she “couldn’t get away fast enough”, according to the Queen’s biographer Ben Pimlott.

In contrast, Diana was such a success that it put pressure on Charles to propose. 

Despite fitting in, Diana said she was “unhappy” and “bored” at Balmoral, and told Andrew Morton: “Instead of having a holiday, it's the most stressful time of the year. It's very close quarters.”

Kate Middleton underwent the Balmoral Test during her first visit in 2009, two years before she got engaged to Prince William. 

It seems her stay was such a hit that the Queen even let her take photographs on the estate, which is usually forbidden, according to Katie Nicholls, author of Kate: The Future Queen.

In 2010, her parents were invited to a shooting weekend at Balmoral, which hinted an engagement was on the horizon – and they will have had to adhere to the code of conduct too. 

They must have aced the test as they were invited back, and Carole Middleton got the honour of being driving back from a shooting lunch with the Queen herself in 2016. 

Even Prince Philip and the Queen’s Mother will have had to pass the Balmoral Test, and according to Michael Patterson, author of A Brief History of the Private Life of Elizabeth II, Wallis Simpson failed quickly, saying the tartan carpets would “have to go”.

It was rumoured Meghan visited Balmoral in 2017, but her first official visit was after she got married to Prince Harry. 

It is not known how she fared in the test, but she is said to be against hunting and field sports, which are the primary pastimes. 

One of the biggest test fails was Sarah Ferguson, who visited as photos emerged of her having her toes sucked by John Bryan – very awkward.


Balmoral Castle has been a Royal residence since 1852.

The estate and its original castle were purchased privately by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, and to this day remain the private property of the Royal Family.

The castle is classified by Historic Scotland as a category A listed building, and costs around £3 million annually to run.

Every summer, the Monarch returns to the Balmoral estate with her husband Prince Philip.

Throughout the summer, much of the royal family – including Charles, Camilla, William, and Kate – will join her and Prince Philip for their annual “summer break.”

The Royal residence has often been described as “the most beautiful place on Earth” and is often referred to as the Queen’s favourite home.

The Queen is often seen riding horses or driving her beloved Range Rover over the estate’s rugged terrain.

The castle gardens were first opened to the public in 1931.

They now open daily between April and the end of July, after which Queen Elizabeth arrives for her annual stay

Cherie Blair also failed to impress by refusing to curtsey, wearing trousers to dinner and also not wanting to do field sports. 

She also claimed the conception of her son Leo happened at the castle as she was too embarrassed to pack “contraceptive equipment” due to staff unpacking bags. 

Boris Johnson also raised eyebrows attending with fiancee Carrie Symonds, which was unusual due to them not being married. 

Unlike other unmarried couples who typically stay off-site, Boris and Carrie did stay the night at the house. 

The Queen was said to be “uncomfortable” given she is the head of the Church of England. 

Would you have passed the Balmoral Test?

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