Britain celebrates Queen on Diamond Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II at her Coronation, in 1953 © Cecil Beaton

When King George VI died sixty years ago, his daughter, Elizabeth, became Queen. This weekend, we celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. But who is the woman behind the crown?

February 6th, 1952. A young woman is travelling with her husband in Kenya. She tucks in to breakfast, and jokes about her family, far away in the UK. She does not know that her father, King George VI, has died – and that she must now take her place as the Queen of England.

For Elizabeth, becoming a monarch was a shock. When the 25-year-old faced her people for the first time, she was forced to forget grief and quickly learn to control the reins of power. ‘My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples,’ she said.

Sixty years later, Elizabeth II is a national icon, always perfectly composed in trademark tailored pastels. The 86-year-old has a regular routine. Every morning, after cornflakes, porridge and two types of marmalade, she sits down at her desk. First, she reads policy papers and government documents that are sent to her, in shiny red boxes, from British Embassies around the world. In the afternoon she meets with scientists, thinkers and politicians. Evenings are filled with official functions or state dinners.

Like all of us, Elizabeth has had hard times. In one year alone, three of her children separated from their partners, and a controversial biography of Princess Diana revealed the gory details of royal life. To top it all off, Windsor Castle burned down. Her majesty responded in a typically understated manner: ‘1992 is not a year I shall look back on with undiluted pleasure,’ she said.

Things got worse. On the night of August 31st, 1997, Prince Charles’ ex-wife, Diana, was killed in a car crash. As Britain grieved, the Queen shut herself away – and received a barrage of anger, and accusations of insensitivity from Diana’s fans.

But in these difficult periods, small pleasures have helped the Queen. A devoted dog-lover, she has owned 30 corgis since being given a puppy – Susan – for her 18th birthday. Ali G impressions are guaranteed to get her giggling.

But the secret to success? Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh: a prince of Greece and Denmark, whom Elizabeth first fell in love with at the age of thirteen, more than seventy years ago.

Crowning glory

Some say it is tough to be Queen. Elizabeth’s fate is to fulfil her duty to the country. Never out of the public eye, she spends every day working tirelessly for the nation. The monarch might even envy the freedom of her subjects.

A life of palaces and privilege is hardly tough, others reply. Travelling the world, meeting fascinating people and attending glamorous events are not chores. Compared to the vast majority, who struggle to get by, the Queen is phenomenally lucky.

You Decide

  1. Given the chance, would you like to be a member of the Royal Family?
  2. Should Britain have a monarchy?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are the Queen – and write a diary of a normal day in your life.
  2. In groups, discuss the qualities a king or queen would need to fulfil their duties. Make a list of the top three – and present them to the class.

Some People Say...

“The Queen has an easy life.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What role does Elizabeth play in running the country?
The Queen helps diplomatic efforts by meeting foreign ambassadors and acting as a non-political face for the UK. As patron of 600 charities and organisations, she raises awareness of important causes and helps raise funds. She also meets with the Prime Minister at 6.30pm every Wednesday – although exactly what they talk about is strictly confidential.
What about all those public appearances?
They take up a great deal of the Queen’s time. She carries out 430 engagements a year – making speeches, unveiling plaques and opening buildings, at schools, galleries and hospitals. If she is appearing away from London she might travel by helicopter or plane, and she is often accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Word Watch

King George VI
Elizabeth’s father was king during World War II. Initially, it was not thought that he would ascend to the throne: he only took the crown when his brother, Edward, stepped down to marry a divorcee. Recently, King George was played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, an Academy Award-winning film that showed the monarch overcoming a crippling stutter.
Princess Diana
Affectionately known as ‘the People’s Princess,’ Diana married the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, when she was just 20 years old. The couple had two sons – William and Harry, but separated in 1992. Despite moving away from the Royal Family, Diana continued to devote herself to good causes, raising the profile of the AIDS crisis and campaigning against landmines. In Britain, an unprecedented outpouring of grief followed her death in 1997; her funeral was watched by an estimated two billion people.

Subjects

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