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Princess Elizabeth was on a tour of South Africa, part of the British Empire at the time, when she turned 21 and made one of her earliest public addresses:
“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 speech was broadcast on the radio from Cape Town.
Elizabeth’s path to the throne was hastened by the abdication of her uncle and the early death of her father, King George VI.
She became queen in February 1952, at age 25, and was 27 at the time of her official coronation in June 1953.
The event was televised for the first time — a decision encouraged by her husband, Philip, that would catapult the royal family into people’s homes for decades to come. Millions in Britain and around the world watched the BBC broadcast from Westminster Abbey.
Elizabeth visited President Harry S. Truman in 1951 when she was a princess, but she made her first state visit to the United States as queen in 1957, meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Queen Elizabeth has made more than 90 state visits, in addition to traveling widely in the British Commonwealth. While projecting the symbolism of the crown, she has helped to strengthen ties with allies and smooth fraught relationships in places such as India, Russia, South Africa and Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth II has never given an interview. But she has found ways to connect with her subjects, including through her annual Christmas address, a central part of British holiday traditions.
As both head of state and head of the Church of England, she has mixed words of wisdom, faith and occasionally personal reflections.
Thousands of adoring fans pressed past policemen and climbed onto palace gates and lampposts as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr arrived to meet the queen.
Wearing a pale gold gown, she bestowed medals of honor on the British pop culture icons.
Four years later, Lennon would return his medal, in protest of Britain’s support of the U.S. war in Vietnam and its involvement in the Nigerian Civil War.
Space exploration ranks high among the scientific and technological advances during Elizabeth’s reign. After becoming the first people to land on the moon, Americans Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin undertook a global goodwill tour, stopping at Buckingham Palace on Oct. 14, 1969.
Armstrong later revealed that he was so sick that day he considered skipping the event; instead he went and ended up coughing on the queen.
Queen Elizabeth II broke centuries of tradition when, instead of waving from afar, she greeted people up close on a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1970.
Since then, the “walkabout” has become a regular practice for many members of the royal family.
One of the rockier periods of the queen’s family life began with the fairy-tale wedding of her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, to Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. Up to a million people sought to get a glimpse of the procession in central London, while the BBC estimated that 750 million people around the world watched on television.
Although Diana was beloved as “the people’s princess,” the couple had a troubled marriage, with mutual accusations of infidelity. They separated in 1992.
South African President Nelson Mandela arrived in Britain in July 1996 for a four-day state visit to his country’s former colonizer.
On that trip, Mandela and the queen developed a lasting fondness for each other. She hosted him at Buckingham Palace and took him on a carriage ride through central London.
The queen faced criticism for a slow response after the news of Diana's death in Paris.
Days later, she spoke to the nation live from Buckingham Palace and said: “No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her...We have all been trying in our different ways to cope.”
The famously staid queen surprised audiences at the 2012 London Olympic Games by appearing in a dramatic opening segment alongside Britain’s most famous spy, James Bond, played by actor Daniel Craig.
The real queen, poker-faced as always, entered her box seat with a familiar yet cheeky wave.
Elizabeth had been married to Philip for 73 years when Buckingham Palace announced his death on April 9, 2021.
His funeral, in the midst of the pandemic, was attended only by close family members and friends. The queen sat alone in a pew, wearing a black face mask, in keeping with national restrictions.
Parades, parties and a public holiday marked the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which celebrated Elizabeth as the first and only British monarch to reach 70 years on the throne.
The queen, smiling in a light blue ensemble and white gloves emerged on the balcony of Buckingham Palace as thousands reflected on her long life and reign. It would be one of her last major public appearances.
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