As beacons light up all over the UK and Commonwealth this month to mark Queen Elizabeth ll’s Platinum Jubilee, looks back on her record-breaking 70-year reign.


As beacons light up all over the UK and Commonwealth this month to mark Queen Elizabeth ll’s Platinum Jubilee, looks back on her record-breaking 70-year reign.


She was on an idyllic safari with Prince Philip at Treetops in Kenya when the news came: King George Vl is dead. Long live the Queen! From the day her father died, February 6, 1952, the Queen who was never meant to be threw herself into a life of service and self-sacrifice in ways that have won the respect of pretty much everyone the world over, anti-monarchists included.

Heir to The Firm by virtue of her uncle King Edward Vlll abdicating to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, she was a 25-year-old mother of two when she took over the helm, keeping the monarchy afloat through seven choppy decades while some of her family seemed intent on sinking it. And although it might have foundered on the rocks of her initial apparent indifference to the death of People’s Princess Diana, she navigated serenely around them with the stoicism of her namesake, Queen Elizabeth l when facing the Spanish Armada.

Queens these days have a lot less power, as Elizabeth II noted in the first televised Queen’s Speech (Christmas 1957): “I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can give you my heart and my devotion.” They could sack a prime minister – Boris beware – but only in exceptional circumstances. Constitutional monarchs are expected to work with their governments, not against them.
More bluntly, as the anti-monarchist Daily Mirror wrote, she is ‘The first British monarch ever to pretty much do what she’s told. She’s paid tax, given up her yacht, lowered the flag and bowed to Diana’s coffin, had Martin McGuinness over for tea… had she not been so flexible and compliant the monarchy might not have survived past 1997.’

Inspired by her father who only reigned for 16 years, Elizabeth is on the way to quintupling that. At 96 and a great grandmother 12 times over, the 40th ruler since William the Conqueror is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-serving female head of state in history.

She has supported 14 British prime ministers, starting with Winston Churchill, hosted 13 US Presidents and circumnavigated the globe several times in her role as Head of the Commonwealth of Nations. In Sydney during her 1970 tour she pioneered the first ‘royal walkabout’, bucking centuries of traditional waving from a distance. As patron on the letterheads of 620 charities, she goes to the opening of every envelope as well as helping to fill them. “One has to be seen to be believed,” she has said. “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am.”
Iconic, today, for her colourful coats and Mad Hatter hats that would say the queen even if the queen wasn’t wearing them, and the black handbag she shifts from one arm to the other to signal she’s ready to wrap up a conversation, Her Majesty is the crown jewel of Britain’s national treasures.

Although noticeably frailer, with mobility problems that forced her to miss her first State Opening of Parliament since 1963 (when she was pregnant), ‘She remains very much centre stage and really enjoys what she does’, according to Robert Hardman whose biography, Queen of Our Times, is just out. “And, when you get behind the scenes, she does keep politicians on their toes. I don’t think people will realise until she’s gone how much she is part of the national landscape. She is such a reassuring figure… there’s the sense that the wheels aren’t going to fall off as long as there’s a flag flying above Buckingham Palace.”

Not everyone loves the institution but the Queen is rated top royal with a 75% popularity ranking on YouGov, while heir to the throne Charles languishes in sixth place with 50%. Elizabeth commands a respect not yet earned by the rest of the royal family, say royal watchers, which will create unpredictability for her successor.


Brits all over the UK will be handing up union jack bunting and painting their towns red, white and blue for the four-day Platinum Jubilee weekend (June 2-5).
In the capital, it kicks off with the Trooping of the Colour at the Queen’s Official Birthday Parade, finished with an RAF flypast and the traditional balcony wave – confined to working royals this year, diplomatically excluding Harry, Meghan and Andrew… Later, a beacon lit at the Palace will set off a nationwide chain of 1,500 bonfires, reciprocated in the 54 Commonwealth capitals.

Pop meets pomp and circumstance in a packed mega-weekend crowned by the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, a carnival version of the Queen’s reign in four acts expected to attract more TV viewers than the London Olympics opening ceremony.

It’s unlikely the Queen will attend it but at least it’s not on water this time, unlike the Diamond Jubilee Pageant when the royal party froze their butts off on a Thames barge in the rain and Philip went down with a fever!


BBC coverage of the 1953 Coronation was a turning point for TV when viewers outnumbered radio listeners for the first time. Sets flew off the shelves as people scrambled to buy one of these new-fangled gizmos, and over 20 million people in Britain saw the solid gold 2.3 kilo coronation crown placed on Elizabeth’s head. The Imperial State Crown worn for State Openings of Parliament is still heavy at half the weight, as the Queen noted in a 2018 BBC documentary. “You can’t look down to read the speech because if you did, your neck would break.”


She called him her ‘strength and stay’, he called her ‘cabbage’. By all accounts it was a love match, despite her dashing Duke of Edinburgh’s eye for the ladies.
A prince of Greece and Denmark and Elizabeth’s third cousin through Queen Victoria, their marriage spanned 73 years.  Philip’s dry wit set people at ease but he could lack diplomacy. During the first visit of a British monarch to China in 1986 he called Beijing ‘ghastly’ and told a group of British students they would get ‘slitty eyes’ if they stayed too long.

When he died last year, a few months short of getting his 100th birthday telegram from the queen, images of her sitting alone (as per Covid rules) at his funeral were a striking symbol of her grief and her eulogy said it all:
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”


Elizabeth is Queen of Papua New Guinea, The Falklands, St Lucia, and 27 other countries and territories stretching from Canada to New Zealand… although maybe not for much longer.

Barbados severed its ties with the Crown last year, Jamaica will follow suit and this spring’s charm offensive of Commonwealth tours that saw William and Kate’s Caribbean leg met with anti-royal protests and demands for reparation over the Crown’s role in slavery have been a PR disaster. Edward and Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex can expect a warmer welcome when they visit Gibraltar this month (June 7-9).

Once part of the British Empire, 14 Commonwealth Realms retain the Queen as head of state, represented by a governor-general with essentially ceremonial powers; the rest became republics or have different monarchs. But they all belong to the Commonwealth of Nations which has grown from eight countries to 54 under Elizabeth’s headship, connected through shared history and values and celebrated at the Commonwealth Games.

The Queen has visited 52 Commonwealth countries at least once, clocking 44,000 miles on her first six-month mega tour. And the most widely travelled head of state in history did it all without requiring a passport.