Arlene Foster: My deep admiration for a monarch who still inspires after 64 years on the throne
The Queen acceded to the throne 64 years ago today, marking another milestone in her historic reign. Here, First Minister Arlene Foster explains what the Head of State means to her, and why she has achieved so much for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland
The very first memory that I have of Her Majesty The Queen comes from my childhood. In our home we always watched the Trooping the Colour on television. This was back in the days when the Queen would lead the parade on horseback herself.
As a little girl I was very taken with the beauty and pageantry of the occasion. I'm not sure I even understood what it really was, but I always knew it was the Queen.
I have been an avowed royalist ever since. Indeed, any visitor to my home will note that over the years I have amassed a considerable collection of royal memorabilia.
I was seven at the time of the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Even all these years later I still recall the sense of fun and excitement. Along with all my friends we went to parties, ate far too many sweets and buns and had a great time.
Throughout Northern Ireland I know that there are many similar stories of street parties and other festivities. That's why I was delighted to see the Queen coming to Stormont for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. We wanted to give as many children as possible the opportunity to see her and create those same memories that some of us have from all those years ago.
Last year Her Majesty the Queen surpassed the length of the reign of her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria. The Queen has served our country as Head of State for an incredible 64 years.
As she approaches her 90th birthday, she shows no sign of letting up in the massive amount of work that she undertakes.
Her Majesty has a work-rate that would put people half her age to shame. She is the patron of over 600 charitable organisations. Each and every one of these can testify to the benefit that her involvement brings in aiding them to achieve their goals.
When Her Majesty ascended to the throne, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister, Harry S Truman was the occupant of the White House and the Treaty of Paris, which established the European Coal and Steel Community, had just come into force. It was a different world.
In the intervening period the changes that have taken place could never have been imagined: the winds of change throughout Africa; the collapse of the Soviet Union; man walking on the Moon. In an ever-changing and evolving world the Queen has represented for many people the one fixed point in our national life: politicians, prelates and pop stars come and go, but the Queen has endured.
By her example and conduct, the monarchy, which was rescued by her father at the time of the abdication crisis, has been renewed and strengthened as an institution.
Faith is important to the Queen, as it is to many millions of people throughout the United Kingdom. During the annual Christmas message Her Majesty often talks directly of her faith and Christian beliefs.
In 2000, in her annual message, the Queen observed: "To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example."
The Queen is clearly someone who takes her faith seriously and tries to live it out. I have seen this at first-hand. I have been very fortunate to meet the Queen on numerous occasions, but two stand out in my memory.
The first was the occasion of her visit to St Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen. On that occasion hundreds of people from all walks of life came out to welcome Her Majesty to the town. The genuine warmth and affection people felt for her was a joy to behold.
By visiting the nearby Roman Catholic Church, St Michael's, the Queen was able to help bridge a gap that existed not only in physical terms but in the hearts and minds of many people.
The Queen has been a remarkable agent for peace and reconciliation in our country.
The other occasion I remember vividly was having the great honour of welcoming the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Titanic Belfast. I was especially honoured on that occasion to present Her Majesty with a specially commissioned piece of Belleek. The way in which the Queen took the time to speak to people and make them feel special created memories that will last a lifetime.
As she passes yet another significant milestone, we should take collective pride in a life devoted to duty and the service of other people. There have been times when she has been buffeted around by contemporary events, but she has always risen above them, maintained her great dignity and emerged stronger than ever in the affections of her people.
As a grateful nation, let us all say: thank you, Ma'am.