A new line of succession
The line of succession to the throne changed after Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936. Because Edward didn’t have any children, his brother – Elizabeth’s father – became King, taking the name George VI. This put young Elizabeth, 10, next in line.
A Queen is crowned
On February 6, 1952, Princess Elizabeth learnt that her beloved father, King George VI, had died aged 56, making her Queen.
Her official coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, and was broadcast to captivated television audiences. (Television sales surged in Britain!)
Interestingly, the then famously camera-shy Elizabeth was opposed to the broadcast, but a Coronation Commission, chaired by her husband Prince Philip decided to proceed – albeit with the caveat that there were to be no close-ups of Elizabeth’s face.
The Queen meets the people
Nowadays, a walkabout is a commonplace royal activity. But 50 years ago, touring royals simply drove past waving at people. All that changed in 1970, when the Queen decided to interact with royal watchers.
The Queen’s first royal walkabout took place during a tour of Australia and New Zealand, where she greeted members of the public face-to-face in the street.
Prince Andrew is born
On February 19, 1960, Queen Elizabeth became the first reigning monarch to give birth since Queen Victoria in 1857. Elizabeth and Philip welcomed the arrival of their third child, Prince Andrew. The Queen and Philip have four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee
Parades and large-scale parties were arranged in honour of the Queen’s 25 years on the throne. To commemorate her silver jubilee, the Queen and Prince Philip extensively toured the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, visiting 36 countries and clocking up an impressive 90,000km. Every step of the way, the Queen was met by record crowds and millions of wellwishers.
The Queen survived an assassination attempt during the 1981 Trooping the Colour, when shots rang out while she was leading the royal procession towards Buckingham Palace.
The shooter, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant, had fired six blank bullets at the Queen. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The final colony breaks away
Throughout the Queen’s reign, more than 40 countries which were formerly part of the British Empire have gained independence. On April 18, 1980, Zimbabwe was the last of its major colonies to become independent from Britain.
Just a year after the assassination attempt, Elizabeth had another scary run-in with an intruder who managed to climb the palace walls and sneak into the Queen’s bedroom. On July 9, 1982, Michael Fagan reportedly came face to face with the Queen, who fled, before he was apprehended by palace security.
Prince Charles marries Lady Diana
It was billed as ‘the wedding of the century’ – the Queen’s son and heir apparent Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, at St Paul’s Cathedral. The fairytale wedding spectacle took place at the height of the monarch’s popularity, and was watched by an estimated global TV audience of 750 million people.
The royal couple went on to have two children: Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984 – and in the process, provided the next heir to the throne.
But as royal pundits know all too well, this ill-fated marriage was doomed …
Golden wedding anniversary
They were just teenagers when Elizabeth first fell for Philip, but on November 20, 1997, the pair celebrated 50 years of marriage. The couple, who are also third cousins, married at Westminster Abbey in 1947, with the then Princess Elizabeth using war ration coupons to buy the material needed for her bridal gown.
“Annus horribilis” – the horrible year
The Queen used this Latin phrase to describe 1992. Three of her children’s marriages collapsed – Prince Charles and Diana, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson separated, while Princess Anne divorced Mark Phillips. Windsor Castle also came close to being destroyed when a fire broke out in the grounds.
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” the Queen later reflected.
Death of the ‘People’s Princess’
While she was no longer royalty, Diana remained the People’s Princess, and her death on August 31, 1997, left the public devastated.
The Queen was criticised for her seeming lack of compassion. After days of intense pressure, she returned from Balmoral to London to address the nation, saying: ‘’We have all been trying in our different ways to cope. It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: disbelief, incomprehension, anger – and concern for those who remain.”
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee
After 50 years on the throne, the Queen celebrated her golden jubilee in 2002. The warm reception during the celebrations were somewhat of a turning point for the royals, particularly after the outcry over the poor handling of Princess Diana’s death.
That same year was, however, also tinged with grief for the Queen, who lost both her sister, Princess Margaret, and her mother, the Queen Mother.
Prince William marries Kate Middleton
The Queen was proudly in attendance when her grandson Prince William married Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey. The marriage of the future king and queen ushered in a modern face for the next generation of the monarchy.
A new heir is born
The arrival of Prince William and Duchess Catherine’s first son, Prince George, on July 22, 2013, means the Queen now has three generations in line to the throne. His birth means the new line of succession is the Queen’s son Prince Charles, followed by her grandson Prince William and then her great-grandson Prince George.
Joining social media
Queen Elizabeth II has reigned during a period of numerous communication and technological advances – but the monarch really cemented herself as a modern royal when she joined Twitter in April 2009 under the handle @RoyalFamily. The royal also has a Facebook and Instagram account – all run by a dedicated digital team.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
The backdrop of the 2012 Olympics in London only added to the celebratory spirit of the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
Celebrations to mark the monarch’s 60th year on the throne included a 1000-vessel parade down the Thames, as well as a concert outside Buckingham Palace featuring Elton John and Tom Jones.
Responding to terrorism
Britain became a terrorist target on July 7, 2005, when four suicide attackers targeted London’s public transportation system and killed 56 people. Queen Elizabeth played an important public supportive role during this time, saying: “Atrocities such as these simply reinforce our sense of community, our humanity, and our trust in the rule of law.”
The Queen turns 90
Most people know the Queen has two birthdays – her real one on April 21 and the day that’s formally celebrated in early June. In 2016 there were double the celebrations for her milestone 90th birthday. On her actual birthday, the Queen unveiled a plaque on the Queen’s Walkway at Windsor Castle. In June, the formal celebrations included the annual Trooping the Colour parade as well as a street party in St James’s Park for 10,000 people.
The Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee
The Queen notched up yet another jubilee in 2017, marking 65 years as monarch. This came just two years after her 2015 milestone, when she became the longest-reigning monarch in British history. But unlike the mass celebrations of the silver, gold and diamond jubilees, she reportedly spent the day – also the anniversary of her father’s death – in “quiet reflection”.
“Annus horribilis” – part II
In late 2019, Prince Andrew’s TV interview about his involvement with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein became a PR nightmare, culminating in his resignation from royal duties.
Just as the dust was settling, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made their now-dubbed ‘Megxit’ decision, opting to step down as senior working royals in April 2020.
On top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic has plagued the world – with many deaths in Britain and even Prince Charles testing positive for the virus.
The Queen will undoubtedly be called on once again to provide support and encouragement to the public. The monarch has already broadcast a televised address to the Commonwealth – only the 5th in her 68-year reign – urging people to remain united through the crisis.