April 21, 2006

20,000 fans hail Queen Elizabeth at 80

By Paul Majendie

WINDSOR (Reuters) - Queen Elizabeth, her fortunes revived
after a tumultuous decade for the monarchy, was given a rousing
reception by 20,000 cheering fans when she went on a walkabout
on Friday to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Waving Union Jack flags and clutching bouquets,
well-wishers launched into an impromptu chorus of "Happy
Birthday" as the beaming monarch stepped through Windsor
Castle's Henry VIII gate to mark her octogenarian milestone.

Police put the numbers at over 20,000, a bigger turnout
than the crowd for the wedding last year of her son and heir
Charles to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, after a tortuous
35-year romance.

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

Crowned nearly 53 years ago, Europe's longest-serving
monarch has ruled out abdication and opinion polls show
republicans face a losing battle calling for the abolition of
the monarchy while she is alive.

Ardent royalists pressed forward 10-deep against the crash
barriers to offer their congratulations as the broadly smiling
queen, wearing a fuchsia coat and feather hat, spent 45 minutes
working the crowd.

"I am a fervent royalist. She will surely beat Queen
Victoria's record. I am sure of that," said Jennifer Hawkins,
clutching an inflatable corgi dog in honor of the queen's
favorite canine.

Wheelchair-bound American Julia Real, who flew in from New
York to share her own 80th birthday with the queen, said: "The
best present for me is to see her."

Welshman Colin Edwards, sporting a Union Jack T-shirt and
holding a birthday poem he specially wrote for the queen, said:
"I've now done four royal weddings and two funerals. This royal
watching really is like a drug. The adrenalin is amazing."


Among others lining the route in Windsor, west of London,
was Margaret Kittle from Winona, Canada, who made a last-minute
decision to fly over.

"I came over specially for it. I got the plane last night
and took a cab straight from the airport," she told Reuters.

The queen, who has seen 10 British prime ministers take
office during her reign, opted for a low-key day of

On Friday evening, Charles is to host a private family
dinner for his mother. The two are much closer now that his
tangled love life has 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 blamed Camilla for the breakup of her marriage to Charles.

The queen suffered a backlash from her children's
disastrous marriages but now polls show that public opinion is
broadly pro-monarchy -- at least until she dies.

In an ITV News survey, Elizabeth was rated the most popular
royal. Bottom of the survey came Camilla.

More than half of those polled felt Camilla should
definitely not become Queen when Charles finally accedes to the