LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates her diamond jubilee this weekend, has spent a lifetime upholding her pledges to serve her peoples, earning a reputation in the process for calm shrewdness.
The four days of parties, pageantry and thanksgiving from June 2-5 will mark her 60 years on the throne and will serve to reflect on how she has been for many a reassuring figurehead throughout the vast changes witnessed during her reign.
When she ascended to the throne in 1952 aged just 25, Winston Churchill was prime minister of Britain, Jawaharlal Nehru led the newly-independent India and swathes of Africa and Asia were still governed by Britain.
In the six decades since, Queen Elizabeth has been a symbol of constancy as Britain’s empire dwindled, throughout the Cold War and through the huge social upheavals between the post-war gloom and the digital age.
Despite the changing times and the very public ups and downs of the royal family, Elizabeth remains a popular figure and can lay claim to be the most recognised woman on the planet.
“To her, being Queen is a great role, much greater than her and it is a role she tries every day to keep up to,” Kate Williams, the author of “Young Elizabeth: The Making Of Our Queen”, told AFP.
“It’s not just a full-time job: it’s your whole life.”
Born in London on April 21, 1926, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary — nicknamed “Lilibet” by her family — was third in line to the throne behind her uncle Edward, the prince of Wales, and her father Albert, the duke of York.
But the princess became the heir when her uncle abdicated as king Edward VIII in 1936 to marry US divorcee Wallis Simpson, and her father succeeded as king George VI.
She was brought up by governesses, and moved into Buckingham Palace in 1937 when her father was crowned. Towards the end of World War II, aged 18, she undertook national service and qualified as a military driver.
In a 21st birthday broadcast in 1947, she declared that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.
In November that year, she married her third cousin, naval commander Philip Mountbatten, who renounced his titles as a prince of Greece and Denmark to wed.
From Churchill to Cameron, queen’s reign spanned 12 PMs
The couple’s first son, Prince Charles, was born in 1948, followed by Princess Anne in 1950, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.
Elizabeth was visiting Kenya when her father suddenly died overnight in February 1952. She had been staying in the Treetops Hotel, famously going to sleep a princess and waking up a queen.
Her husband broke the news and she returned to Britain immediately.
She was crowned on June 2, 1953, becoming the 40th monarch since king William I in 1066.
She has been head of state of 32 realms, a figure now standing at 16 including Britain.
While her public image, with her trademark matching bright outfits and hats, is known to all the queen’s private life remains something of an enigma.
She is an avid follower of horse racing and famously a lover of Corgi dogs, which she keeps as pets.
Her duties have kept her busy — she has toured the world, visiting every Commonwealth country, while at home she fulfils hundreds of official engagements each year, from garden parties to hospital openings and state banquets.
The punishing schedule has been helped by her robust health, and the support of her husband Prince Philip.
Behind the scenes, she only ever takes Christmas Day off from the red boxes of official state papers that she has to plough through.
She has seen 12 different British prime ministers from Churchill through to David Cameron. Many have attested to her level-headed wisdom and thorough grasp of affairs.
In her diamond jubilee message, Queen Elizabeth vowed to “dedicate myself anew to your service”, reiterating her 1947 pledge.
“Her uncle gave it up because he wanted to go with Wallis Simpson; that’s not her,” author Williams said.
“She is going to do it until the absolute end. She is queen until she takes her last breath.”
Her devotion to duty has sometimes been misinterpreted as coldness — most famously following the death of Diana, princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris.
But many see a queen who has shown throughout her life that she can adapt to the times with dignity. – Robin Millard, Agence France-Presse