London: Since assuming the throne after the death of her father on Feb. 6, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has been a symbol of stability as the UK negotiated the end of Empire, the birth of the computer age and the mass migration that transformed Britain into a multicultural society.
The shy woman with a small handbag, a trailing corgi and passion for horses presided over an era that spawned Monty Python, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. People who thought they knew her thought wrong - as evidenced by her star turn as a Bond Girl at the 2012 London Olympics.
Yet through it all, the queen has built a bond with the nation through a seemingly endless series of public appearances as she opened libraries, dedicated hospitals and bestowed honors on deserving citizens.
This week, Britain will mark Queen Elizabeth's record-breaking 70 years on the throne with four days of celebrations from June 2 to 5, ranging from military parades and a church service to street parties and a pop concert outside Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth, 96, marked seven decades on the throne in February, and two public holidays have been set aside to create a four-day weekend for nationwide events commemorating her reign.
The past two years have highlighted the monarchy's strengths as the queen alternately consoled a nation isolated by COVID-19 and thanked doctors and nurses battling the disease.
But its frailties were also on display as the 96-year-old monarch buried her husband and was slowed by health problems that forced her to turn over important public duties to Charles. That came amid the all-too-public tensions with Prince Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, who made allegations of racism and bullying in the royal household, and the sordid allegations about Prince Andrew's links to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Against this backdrop, the jubilee is also part of the effort to prepare the public for the day when Charles, 73, takes the throne.
I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.
Elizabeth, who only recently recovered from COVID-19 and has begun using a walking stick, has given Charles an increasingly important role as the public face of the monarchy. Earlier this month, he stood in for his mother when what the palace describes as "episodic mobility problems" prevented her from presiding over the state opening of Parliament.
Still, in the days afterward, she turned up at a horse show, opened a subway line and toured the Chelsea Flower Show in a chauffeur-driven royal buggy - a sort of luxurious golf cart.
“There is no blueprint for a reign of this length and, subsequently, I think the palace and courtiers are having to improvise all the time,” said Ed Owens, a royal historian and author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.
British prime ministers have served under the queen.
"In the case of Elizabeth II, we haven't had a monarch this elderly who has reigned for so long and is so meaningful to so many people having to essentially transfer her role to the next in line."
But don't expect the queen to leave the scene any time soon.
Robert Hardman, biographer and author of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II said he expects to see an even bigger party four years from now when Elizabeth turns 100.
"A 100th birthday raises the intriguing prospect: Will she send a card to herself?" Hardman mused, referencing the queen's tradition of sending a personal birthday card to anyone who reaches that milestone. "I'm looking forward to that debate in 2026."
Queen Elizabeth II: record breaker
Queen Elizabeth II has notched up a number of landmarks in her record-breaking 70 years on the throne.
Elizabeth has reigned for 70 years and nearly four months - longer than any other monarch in British history.
The previous record was held by her great-great-grandmother queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, seven months and two days until 1901.
At 96, Elizabeth is the oldest current monarch and head of state in the world.
Only two kings have ruled for longer: France's Louis XIV - more than 72 years between 1643 and 1715 - and Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej - 70 years and four months, until his death in October 2016.
The queen has travelled to more than 100 countries since 1952 - another record for a British monarch - and made more than 150 visits to Commonwealth countries.
is the longest foreign trip the queen has made during which she visited 13 countries.
She has been 22 times to Canada - more than any other country. In Europe, she has visited France the most - 13 times - and speaks the language.
The Daily Telegraph calculated that she travelled the equivalent of 42 times around the world before stopping overseas trips in November 2015 aged 89.
Her longest foreign trip lasted 168 days from November 1953 to May 1954 during which she visited 13 countries.
As a 21-year-old princess, Elizabeth pledged her life to the service of the Commonwealth.
As queen, she has carried out some 21,000 engagements, given royal assent to 4,000 pieces of legislation, and hosted 112 state visits of foreign heads of state.
Among those she hosted were emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (1954), Japan's emperor Hirohito (1971), president Lech Walesa of Poland (1991) and US president Barack Obama (2011).
More than 180 garden parties have been hosted at Buckingham Palace, attended by more than 1.5 million people.
Politics and religion
A total of 14 British prime ministers have served under the queen. Her first was Winston Churchill (1952-1955) and the latest is Boris Johnson, since 2019.
I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
The queen holds regular private meetings with her prime minister of the day, usually at Buckingham Palace on a weekly basis.
Elizabeth II has met 13 out of the last 14 US presidents with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. Her last visitor from the White House was Joe Biden in 2021.
The queen is the supreme governor of the Church of England, a position dating back to the creation of the church under king Henry VIII in the 16th century.
She has met four popes on official visits - John XXIII (1961), John Paul II (1980, 1982 and 2000), Benedict XVI (2010) and Francis I (2014).
The queen has sent some 300,000 cards of congratulation to centenarians and more than 900,000 to couples celebrating 60 years of marriage.
She was married for 73 years - another record for a British monarch. Her husband, Prince Philip, died aged 99 in April last year.
The queen has posed for more than 200 portraits since the age of seven. Most were painted in a traditional style.
In 1996, the queen became the first British monarch to visit mainland China while in 1991. She was also the first to address the House of Representatives in Washington.
She sent her first email on March 26, 1976 during a visit to a Ministry of Defence research facility.
In 1997, she launched the Buckingham Palace website and in 2014 sent her first tweet. Three years ago, she made her debut on Instagram.
The queen is the only monarch to have jumped out of a helicopter with James Bond and parachuted into the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Kind of.
She and her beloved corgis made a cameo appearance at the 2012 London Games with 007 actor Daniel Craig, before a stuntman made the leap.
What’s happening for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee?
Public celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s record-breaking 70-year reign will take place over four days next week.
Thursday, June 2
More than 1,200 soldiers from the Household Division of the British Army perform the “Trooping of the Colour” ceremony to officially mark the queen’s birthday. The military pageant, complete with musicians and horses, combines pomp and tradition dating back more than two centuries.
The event culminates with the royal family’s appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to wave to crowds and watch a fly-past of military jets.
More than 2,800 beacons will be lit at the palace and across the UK, including atop the country’s four highest peaks, as well as on the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and British Overseas Territories.
Friday, June 3
A national service of thanksgiving for the queen’s record-breaking reign takes place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, featuring a rare ringing of the Great Paul bell.
Great Paul, cast in 1882, is the largest church bell in the country. Its mechanism broke in the 1970s but it was restored to its former glory last year.
It has only been sounded eight times since then, and never for a royal occasion.
Read more about the Queen's Platinum Jubilee
Saturday, June 4
A keen horseracing fan, the queen is expected to attend the 243rd running of the country’s most prestigious flat-racing event, The Derby, at Epsom Downs.
In the evening, some 22,000 people - including 5,000 key workers such as frontline medics - are expected to attend the BBC Platinum Party at Buckingham Palace.
Performers include rockers Queen + Adam Lambert, Motown legend Diana Ross and Elton John.
Alicia Keys, Nile Rodgers and the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli are among others lined up for the 2.5-hour musical extravaganza.
Sunday, June 5
More than 70,000 people have registered to host Big Jubilee Lunches, with 10 million expected to share food and friendship with their neighbours, the government said.
More than 600 lunches have been planned throughout the Commonwealth and beyond, from Canada to Brazil, New Zealand to Japan and South Africa to Switzerland.
The final day culminates with the Platinum Jubilee Pageant - a public parade through central London.
- with inputs from AFP, AP