April 21, 2006

Queen Elizabeth: working grandmother turns 80

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - Queen Elizabeth, her fortunes revived
after a turbulent decade for the royal family, turned 80 on
Friday demonstrating all the stamina she needs to become
Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

With a decade to go before she would rival Queen Victoria's
64 years on the throne, this sprightly working grandmother
shows no signs of slowing down and seems to have genes on her
side -- her mother died at 101.

Crowned nearly 53 years ago, she firmly rules out
abdication and opinion polls suggest republicans face a losing
battle calling for the abolition of the monarchy while she is
still alive.

In an ITV News survey, she was rated the most popular
royal. Bottom of the pack came Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall,
who last year married the queen's eldest son Charles after a
tortuous 35-year romance.


Britain's most famous octogenarian has opted for a
strikingly low-key day of celebrations to mark her personal

She will be spending the day at Windsor Castle, ravaged by
fire in 1992, the year she memorably called her "annus
horribilis" after the marriages of three of her four children
broke up.

Stepping out of the castle, she will head off on a
walkabout among her subjects -- a tradition she first adopted
in a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1970.

On the advice of police who expect a major turnout, the
route has been extended so she can meet as many well-wishers as

Asked what she wanted for her birthday during a visit to
the BBC on Thursday, she said "a nice sunshiny day -- that
would be nice."

The queen, who has received 20,000 birthday cards and
17,000 e-mails, said: "I have been very touched by what you
have written and would like to express my gratitude to you all
for making this day such a special day for me."

Any doubts about her stamina were firmly squashed by her
second son, Prince Andrew, who told Sky News: "She is probably
one of the fittest 80-year-olds you could ever wish to meet."

On Wednesday evening, Charles is to host a private family
dinner for his mother. The two are much closer now that his
tangled love life has finally been sorted out.

His first wife Princess Diana, killed in 1997 in a Paris
car crash that provoked an outpouring of grief from Britons,
had always blamed Camilla for the breakup of her marriage to

The queen, born in 1926, suffered a backlash from her
children's disastrous marriages but now public opinion is
broadly pro-monarchy -- at least until she dies.

Veteran Mail on Sunday columnist William Rees-Mogg said:
"We have been living through a great reign comparable in length
but also in achievement with the reigns of her predecessors,
Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria."

Daily Mirror royal correspondent James Whitaker begged to
differ, telling Reuters: "I really, really admire her but I
don't think she will go down in history as a great sovereign."

He added: "Three of her children got divorced. That is a
hell of a fallout in one family by any standards.

"Everything is fine for the monarchy while she is alive. I
am not sure it is fine when she is dead. I don't think we want
Charles to come to the throne in any real hurry."