Queen Elizabeth II

February 6, 2012 by staff 

Queen Elizabeth II, The Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was up a tree in Kenya gazing at the wildlife below when her father, King George VI, died in London on Feb. 6, 1952. At that moment, 60 years ago today, she was queen of the United Kingdom, at age 25. Only she didn’t know it yet.

Six decades later, the British are preparing to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with an outpouring of affection and patriotism and an extravagant party for their 40th monarch since the Norman Conquest.

It’s only the second Diamond Jubilee in British history. The first was Queen Victoria’s in 1897. The queen was so frail (she was 78) she had to sit outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in her carriage for the thanksgiving service because she couldn’t get up the steps.

Not so for her great-great-granddaughter, soon to be 86, who has spent a lifetime demonstrating how sturdy and steady she is, and always has been, since that gloomy day she arrived home from Kenya. The image is burned into the British memory: a small, black-gloved figure in a black coat and hat, alone at the top of the aircraft stairs, a line of ministers below led by a teary Winston Churchill.

“It was the first of very significant moments in the nation’s emotional life,” says royal biographer Robert Lacey, whose latest book about Elizabeth, “A Brief Life of the Queen,” just came out in the U.K.

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