Queen Elizabeth II - A political mind
With a reign that has endured longer than the memories of the majority of her subjects, Elizabeth has seen 12 British Prime Ministers installed at 10 Downing Street.
Each one has been granted a weekly and strictly confidential audience with the Queen, giving her a unique view on the changing faces of the country’s leadership and making her advice invaluable to the sitting Prime Minister.
During informal chats with the likes of Winston Churchill through to Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now David Cameron, the Queen has had both a right and a duty to express her opinions. Whether the premier in question takes her advice on board is another matter - the Queen is considered to be above politics and is required to abide by the decision of the prime minister.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth takes her constitutional roles seriously and spends hours every day reading the state papers that are sent to her in boxes from various embassies and government offices. She calls it “doing the boxes” and, with only Christmas Day taken off, frequently impresses those in government with her intimate knowledge of the affairs of the state.
It’s not just in London where the Queen nurtures relationships with world leaders. International heads of state, many with no monarchy of their own, and even those who may find the Queen an uncomfortable symbol of the bygone days British colonialism, often attest to her calm good judgment and gentle humour.
Mary Robinson was the first Irish President to meet the Queen in 1996 when she took afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace. Then in 2011 the Queen became the first British monarch to set foot on Irish soil in 100 years and the first since the country became a Republic.
George W Bush became the first American President to stay at Buckingham Palace in 80 years, while Nelson Mandela refers to the Queen as “my friend”.
As well as helping to build bridges over previously troubled water, the Queen has also witnessed 60 years’ worth of skirmishes and outright war.
As a young princess in the 1940s Elizabeth lived through World War II, taking refuge in Windsor Castle with her sister rather than evacuating to Canada. As Queen she witnessed British forces take part in many conflicts including the Suez, Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands, the Gulf, Afghanistan,
Iraq and Libya.