63 years and counting: Queen Elizabeth II becomes longest-serving British monarch



Then and Now: Queen Elizabeth. Getty Images

London: Westminster Abbey’s bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

The queen herself is set to inaugurate a railway line in Scotland and host a private dinner at Balmoral Castle to mark the day she overtakes her great-great grandmother queen Victoria’s record.

It is not known where exactly she will be at 1630 GMT, the best estimate from royal officials for the time at which the monarch, who has become synonymous with Britain itself, reaches the landmark.

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to lead tributes in parliament to a figure best known internationally for her stoicism in the face of a slew of royal scandals, as well as her colourful outfits.But at that moment, she will have served 23,226 days, 16 hours and roughly 30 minutes on the throne — over 63 years.

“Her Majesty has been a rock of stability in a world of constant change,” Cameron said in a statement.

“It is only right that today we should celebrate her extraordinary record, as well as the grace and dignity with which she serves our country.”

The queen may deliver a speech for the occasion, according to media reports, although a royal source has said she wants to keep the occasion low-key because of the memories it evokes.

“While she acknowledges it as an historic moment, it’s also for her not a moment she would personally celebrate, which is why she has been keen to convey business as usual and no fuss,” the source explained.

Elizabeth became queen upon the death of her father George VI, Britain’s king during World War II, whose youthful stutter inspired the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech.

The calculation of her time on the throne is based on when he passed away, which is estimated at around 1:00 am on 6 February, 1952,  an hour after he was seen for the last time at his bedroom window at Sandringham House in eastern England.

‘Unimpeachable integrity’

The queen presided over a gradual decline in Britain’s global influence as many of its former colonies became independent, as well as a sharp rise in living standards and the advent of the digital age.

“She has been on the throne so long, it’s difficult to conceive of the country without her,” said Judith Rowbotham, visiting research fellow at Plymouth University.

She has also steered the monarchy through some of its rockiest recent patches, including the collapse of three of her children’s marriages and public anger at her reaction to the death of princess Diana in 1997, which some saw as cold.

The royal family has since tried to present itself as more in touch with the public.

That decision was crowned by the highly popular marriage of the queen’s grandson Prince William to commoner Kate Middleton in 2011, and the birth of the couple’s two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

While the queen herself may not want to make a fuss of Wednesday’s landmark, Buckingham Palace will mark the day with a photo display of her reign and is allowing broadcasters to set up on its famous lawn — an unprecedented concession.

Most British newspapers splashed photographs of the queen on their front pages Wednesday. The Daily Telegraph’s front-page headline was “The longest to reign over us” while the Daily Express ran with: “Thank You Ma’am”.

Historian David Starkey said the queen was an example of “unimpeachable integrity”.

He said her refusal to comment on controversial issues had deprived “republicanism of the necessary oxygen of controversy”.

However, it also meant she had “done and said nothing that anybody will remember” and she would therefore “not give her name to her age” as Victoria did, Starkey wrote in the Radio Times.

Most of her subjects remain fans. A YouGov survey earlier this year found she was the woman most admired by Britons, well ahead of actress Judi Dench in second place.

Telegraph pundit Allison Pearson said the queen could “with some justification” celebrate her achievements on Wednesday with her favourite tipple in hand, a Zaza cocktail of gin mixed with Dubonnet.