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Queen's 90th Birthday: Her Majesty's milestones

he significant birthday celebrations in the incredible life of Queen Elizabeth II

Published 22/04/2016

Queen Elizabeth reads 80th birthday cards from wellwishers.
Queen Elizabeth reads 80th birthday cards from wellwishers.

The Queen’s birthday celebrations over the past 90 years have ranged from a quiet morning ride with her children at Windsor to a grand birthday ball for 500 guests.

Her 40th birthday coincided with the State Opening of Parliament and her 80th was a busy affair including a walkabout, an intimate family dinner followed by fireworks, and a special tribute from the Prince of Wales broadcast to the nation.

The monarch celebrates two birthdays each year: her actual one on April 21, as well as her official one on a Saturday in June marked by the Trooping the Colour parade.

Here is a look back at how the Queen has celebrated some of her milestone birthdays in April:

FIRST BIRTHDAY 1927

Princess Elizabeth of York’s first birthday was spent apart from her parents. The Duke and Duchess of York left the UK in January 1927 for a lengthy tour to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

Cared for by her nanny Allah and staying with both sets of grandparents in turn, Elizabeth was not to see her parents again until six months later in June 1927 — when she had already turned one and had been taught to say “mummy” by Allah.

Her first birthday was spent at Windsor Castle and official photographs taken just before the day show the curly-haired princess sat on her grandmother Queen Mary’s lap, wearing a white smock dress and a beaded necklace, and with bare feet.

10TH BIRTHDAY 1936

The Princess — who was nicknamed Lilibet — entered double figures in 1936. As a birthday treat, she took breakfast with her parents and grandmother Queen Mary, instead of in the nursery at Windsor, before opening her presents.

She received a miniature motor car, a bicycle, a big doll from her sister Princess Margaret, books, a riding crop and furniture for her dolls’ house.

The morning was spent riding in Windsor Great Park on her white pony, Snowball, before a birthday party in the afternoon with a double-tiered iced cake.

11TH BIRTHDAY 1937

Elizabeth’s 11th birthday came four months after her uncle David abdicated as King Edward VIII. It was her first as heiress presumptive — her father was now king as George VI and she was — unless her parents produced a son — a future queen.

Newspapers reported how larger crowds than usual gathered on her birthday for the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle in the hope of seeing the girl who could one day be monarch.

Elizabeth watched from the window of her private apartment before moving to the lawn, where the public greeted her with cheers. A birthday tea party was held in the afternoon for friends and family.

Three weeks after she turned 11, Elizabeth saw her parents crowned at George VI’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 12 1937.

16TH BIRTHDAY 1942

Princess Elizabeth devoted her 16th birthday to royal duties and carried out her first engagement as honorary Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

On April 21 1942, Britain was in the midst of the Second World War and Elizabeth inspected the soldiers with her father the King at Windsor Castle in front of 30 reporters and 10 photographers.

The Times newspaper reported that “she bore herself with quiet dignity” and that during simple ceremony “even the urgency of the war seemed suspended for a little while”.

Elizabeth attended a reception for 600 Guards afterwards with entertainers including Vera Lynn.

Cecil Beaton photographed the fresh-faced teenager a few months later, in a jacket and cap, wearing a blue enamelled and diamond brooch — the Guards’ regimental cypher — given to her by the regiment for her 16th.

18TH BIRTHDAY 1944

Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 18th birthday quietly in the English countryside, surrounded by members of her family.

Before a private luncheon party, she saw the Grenadier Guards mount a guard in her honour and was presented with a miniature replica of the King’s Colour.

On turning 18, she was entitled to move from a nursery bedroom at Buckingham Palace to a suite. She was given her own Household, a lady in waiting, her own coat of arms and her own standard.

There was a campaign to give her a new title as she entered adulthood — the Princess of Wales. It was supported by some MPs, but not by George VI so ultimately the plan was rejected and a statement issued saying her title would not be changing.

21ST BIRTHDAY 1947

On her 21st birthday on April 21 1947, Princess Elizabeth was with her parents and younger sister on a tour of South Africa. In a birthday speech broadcast on the radio from Cape Town, the Princess dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth.

“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,” she pledged.

She was also about to embark on a life-changing decision. Her engagement was on the brink of being settled and three months later it was announced she was to marry Lieutenant Philip Mounbatten.

26TH BIRTHDAY 1952

Her first birthday since her accession. Elizabeth II was dressed in black for (right) this anniversary — with court mourning still continuing following the death of her father in February. She inspected the Grenadier Guards at Windsor and relinquished her role as Colonel of the regiment.

30TH BIRTHDAY 1956

Her 30th birthday was said to be a quiet affair, spent at Windsor, with a ride in the morning with ‘the Duke of Cornwall’ — her eldest son Prince Charles — and Princess Anne.

The Duke of Edinburgh was away in Germany, but made it home for the afternoon.

40TH BIRTHDAY 1966

The Queen was immersed in the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament on her 40th, with the colourful spectacle coincidentally falling on her actual birthday.

Duty required she ride in the state procession to the House of Lords, where she opened the new session of parliament as head of state.

50TH BIRTHDAY 1976

A set of family photos were taken specially to mark the occasion. A smiling Queen posed with Philip and their 12-year-old son, Prince Edward, in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Her royal duty on her 50th birthday was meeting members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Associations in Windsor’s Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle at a tea party.

Celebrations began the night before with first a dinner for close family and friends and then a birthday ball for 500 people, where guests included then recently resigned prime minister Harold Wilson, but not the newly appointed one, James Callaghan, who said he was too busy catching up on work. He was praised by some for getting his priorities right and criticised by others for being ill-mannered.

A year later, the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee — 25 years on the throne.

60TH BIRTHDAY 1986

The Queen took to the balcony of Buckingham Palace for her 60th, waving to the crowds with Philip and the royals’ latest lovebirds — the soonto-be-married Prince Andrew and his fiancée Sarah Ferguson.

Six thousand children bearing daffodils serenaded the monarch with ‘Happy Birthday’, waiting to meet her as she carried out a walkabout.

The royal family, including the Princess of Wales and a three-year-old Prince William, also went en masse to a thanksgiving service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, returning in a grand procession of state carriages.

Tiaras at the ready, the evening was spent at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, at a special birthday gala.

70TH BIRTHDAY 1996

By the Queen’s 70th birthday, the state of play was very different and the popularity of the royal family was at a low point. Royal aides even kept state-led celebrations to a minimum.

The monarch’s birthday came just five months after Diana’s controversial Panorama interview in which she admitted to an affair, and fell in the tricky period ahead of the finalisation of both Charles and Diana’s divorce, and that of the Duke and Duchess of York.

April 21 was a Sunday and the Queen, dressed in primrose yellow, went to a morning church service at Sandringham and collected cards and flowers from well-wishers.

The Queen was left disappointed when her plans for a private birthday dinner party at Michel Roux’s exclusive Waterside Inn restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, were scrapped at the last minute after they were leaked to a newspaper. The Queen’s two troublesome daughters in law, Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York, had not been invited.

80TH BIRTHDAY 2006

The Queen’s 80th birthday in April 2006 was the focus of a host of celebrations.

She marked the milestone with a traditional walkabout down the main high street in Windsor in front of crowds of 20,000 well-wishers. In the evening, a special candlelit black-tie dinner, organised by her eldest son Charles, was held for the royal family at Kew Palace in the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, followed by a large firework display afterwards. Among the guests was the Prince’s former mistress Camilla Parker Bowles — now the Duchess of Cornwall — who had been an HRH for just over a year.

Photographs were released showing the monarch opening some of her 80th birthday post and she issued a message of thanks to the public for their birthday wishes. Charles made a special birthday tribute to the Queen, which was broadcast on both radio and TV.

The day before her birthday the Queen made a trip to the BBC’s Broadcasting House and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House. Earlier in the week had a special lunch for her birthday ‘’twins’’ — 99 other pensioners who were born on the same day as her.

Her 80th birthday celebrations carried on into the weekend. There was another private party for close friends at Windsor on Saturday night, followed by a thanksgiving service at the castle’s St George’s Chapel on the Sunday.

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