Queen Elizabeth II has become the first British monarch to reach 70 years on the throne, providing a ray of stability as many of the country’s institutions lie in shadow.
While its platinum jubilee officially takes place on Sunday, it will be publicly celebrated in Britain later this year during a four-day bank holiday weekend from June 2-5.
It is seen by Boris Johnson’s government as one of a series of events in 2022 that could lift the national mood, after two grueling years of the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson, the Prime Minister, said this week that Sunday would be a time of ‘national celebration’, but also ‘a day of mixed emotions for Her Majesty, as of course the day also marks 70 years since her father’s death beloved George VI”.
The Jubilee is the latest historic record set by the Queen, already Britain’s oldest and longest-serving monarch. She acceded to the throne in 1952, while vacationing in Kenya, at a time when the British Empire still encompassed dozens of territories, including present-day Ghana, Malaysia and Qatar.
She oversaw the dismantling of the empire, the consolidation of the Commonwealth, and the transformation of the monarchy into its modern form.
The monarch’s increasingly ceremonial role means that Elizabeth II never had the political influence of some predecessors, including her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Instead, she offered a figurehead to Britain and the world, exemplifying pomp and pageantry but also tolerance, service and even frugality.
Although Winston Churchill, Prime Minister at the time of his rise, said that Hollywood itself could not have chosen a more perfect person in the role, his reign also faced difficulties, especially around the death of Diana , Princess of Wales in 1997 and the ongoing sexual abuse case against Prince Andrew, often considered her favorite of her four children.
She helped pay the prince’s legal fees. But in a bid to limit the fallout, last month she ordered that he be stripped of all his royal titles, except the Duke of York.
Her popularity does not seem to have been affected by the association with the prince: 83% of Britons had a positive opinion of the queen, while only 12% had a negative opinion, according to a December poll.
This put her above all other members of the royal family, including the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, whose opinion was split 60 to 33 in her favour.
Indeed, the Queen has received intense sympathy in recent weeks, after it emerged government figures partied in Downing Street in April 2021, the day before the funeral of Prince Philip, her 73-year-old husband. The monarch had insisted on following coronavirus rules and sat alone the following day at the chapel service.
Elizabeth II’s long reign made her a ubiquitous backdrop for modern Britain. It started a few days before Ian Fleming started writing the first James Bond novel, and a few years before John Lennon met Paul McCartney.
It lasted 14 prime ministers, 14 US presidents and 18 managers of England soccer teams. Previously, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was Victoria, who lasted 63 years and seven months before her death in 1901.
Unlike Prince Andrew and his eldest son Prince Charles, the Queen has never granted media interviews, mostly limiting her messages to the public to short TV addresses at Christmas.
His political interventions were rare. Ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, she urged people to “think very carefully about the future”, seen as opposing independence.
She was then drawn into the Brexit vote, when The Sun newspaper reported that she had once expressed reservations about the EU at a private lunch.
Relations with the current Prime Minister have not been smooth. Johnson reportedly apologized to him in 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled he had unlawfully asked her to prorogue Parliament.
The Prime Minister also noted he had apologized to her last month for the Downing Street parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
The health of the queen, who turns 96 in April, seems more fragile lately. She did not attend the Cop-26 climate summit in Glasgow in October, addressing it via video link instead of Windsor Castle.
In November, she sent her ‘warmest wishes’ to Barbados as the Caribbean country stripped him of his post as head of state; Prince Charles attended the ceremony.
To celebrate the jubilee, a commemorative medal will be given to those who work in the public service. Special 50 pence and £5 coins were also produced. The public was also asked to suggest a new national pudding, just as the “coronation chicken” – consisting of chicken, mayonnaise and curry powder – was devised before his coronation in 1953.