Queen Elizabeth II has become the first British monarch to reach 70 years on the throne, providing a strong backdrop of tradition and dignity to a country that has endured much under the pandemic.
While her Platinum Jubilee officially takes place on Sunday, it will be celebrated publicly in Britain later this year on a four-day bank holiday weekend from June 2 to 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 draining years of the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson, the prime minister, said this week that Sunday would be a moment of “national celebration”, but also “a day of mixed emotions for Her Majesty, as of course the day also marks 70 years since the death of her beloved father George VI”.
The jubilee is the latest historical record set by the Queen, already Britain’s longest-serving and oldest monarch. She assumed the throne in 1952, while on holiday in Kenya, at a time when the British empire still encompassed dozens of territories, including modern-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 guise.
The monarch’s increasingly ceremonial role meant that Elizabeth II has never had the political influence of some predecessors, including her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Instead she has 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 time of her ascension, said that Hollywood itself could have not have cast a more perfect person in the role, her reign has also had struggles, particularly around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and the ongoing sexual abuse case against Prince Andrew, often seen as her favourite of her four children.
She has helped to pay the prince’s legal fees. But in a move to limit the fallout, last month she ordered that he be stripped of his royal titles, except the Duke of York.
Her popularity does not seem to have been hit by association with the prince: 83 per cent of Britons had a positive opinion of the Queen, while only 12 per cent had a negative opinion, according to a December poll.
That placed her above any other members of the royal family, including the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, of whom opinion split 60 to 33 in favour.
Indeed the Queen has received intense sympathy in recent weeks, after it emerged that government figures partied at Downing Street in April 2021, the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years. The monarch had insisted on sticking to coronavirus rules, and sat alone the next day in the chapel service.
Elizabeth II’s long reign has made her an ever-present backdrop to modern Britain. It began a few days before Ian Fleming started writing the first James Bond novel, and a few years before John Lennon met Paul McCartney.
It has spanned 14 prime ministers, 14 US presidents, and 18 England football team managers. Previously Britain’s longest reigning monarch was Victoria, who lasted 63 years and seven months before her death in 1901.
Unlike Prince Andrew and her elder son Prince Charles, the Queen has never done media interviews, mainly limiting her messages to the public to short TV addresses at Christmas.
Her political interventions have been 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 dragged 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 was reported to have apologised to her in 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled that he had unlawfully asked her to prorogue parliament.
The prime minister also said he had apologised to her last month about Downing Street parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
The health of the Queen, who turns 96 in April, has seemed more fragile recently. She did not travel to the Cop-26 climate summit in Glasgow in October, addressing it by video link instead from Windsor Castle.
In November, she sent her “warmest good wishes” to Barbados, as the Caribbean country removed her as head of state; Prince Charles attended the ceremony.
To celebrate the jubilee, a commemorative medal will be given to those who work in public service. Special 50p and £5 coins have also been produced. The public has also been asked to suggest a new national pudding, just as “coronation chicken” — featuring chicken, mayonnaise and curry powder — was devised before her coronation in 1953.