Queen Elizabeth II - Six decades of dedication
She was never meant to be Queen but once Elizabeth II found herself on Britain's throne, she devoted herself to the role...
After 60 years on the throne and at the ripe old age of 86, many in Queen Elizabeth II’s position would be hanging up the pastel hat and overcoat and considering a refined retirement with her horses and Corgis on a luxurious Royal estate.
Instead the tireless British monarch this year pledged “to rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people - now and in the years to come”.
That statement, made in March to London’s Houses of Parliament, echoed a solemn vow first made 65 years ago by the then Princess Elizabeth in a radio message to mark her 21st birthday on April 21.
The year was 1947 and much of the world was still reeling in the aftermath of World War II.
The Indian Independence Act had made its way through the British Parliament and would receive Royal Assent that July with Jawaharlal Nehru becoming the India’s first Prime Minister. Communists would seize power in Hungary and Poland and New Zealand would become independent of legislative control by the British Parliament. Elizabeth herself was to marry Prince Philip of Greece in November that year.
Against this backdrop the princess embarked on her first official state visit, touring South Africa with her father, King George VI, her mother, the Queen consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and younger sister, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.
Her radio broadcast from Cape Town included a promise that would become the mantra by which all aspects of her future public life would be conducted.
“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,” said the young Royal.
Just five years later Elizabeth was on her way to tour Australia and New Zealand via Kenya with her husband. A message was relayed to Prince Philip at the famous Treetops Hotel that the 56-year-old King, who was later revealed to have been suffering from lung cancer, had died.
Prince Philip broke the tragic news to his wife who had gone to bed a princess and woken up queen of what was, at one point during her reign, 32 realms.
Elizabeth flew back to the UK from Nairobi and, still grieving for her father, was proclaimed England’s new monarch. She was just 25 years old.
A year later in 1953, she took the coronation oath during an official ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey. An 8,000-strong audience, bristling with heads of state and prime ministers from around the world, witnessed her crowning moment.
At the age of 26, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, known affectionately as ‘Lilibet’ by her family, donned the 2.23kg St Edward’s Crown and officially became Head of the Commonwealth, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Head of State of the Crown Dependencies.
She could not have known then that her reign would outlast every British monarch other than Queen Victoria, who spent 63 years on the throne.
On the current world stage, Elizabeth’s rule is second in longevity only to King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has sat on Thailand’s throne for 65 years.
Over six decades Elizabeth has cut a familiar figure the world over as - first as a young and active Queen and later clad in one of her trademark brightly block-coloured overcoat, hat and matching shoe ensembles - she has toured country after country with her husband.
“I have to be seen to be believed,” she has been credited with saying, and it was back in 1970 while on a trip to Australia and New Zealand that she put that statement into action.
In a bid to engage with the gathered crowds rather than just the attending dignitaries, she embarked on her first ‘walkabout’, leaving the Royal entourage to chat and shake hands with the general public.