A Milestone For A Beloved Monarch
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The queen marks a big milestone today. Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history, on the throne for 63 years and seven months, longer than her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London that the 53 countries of the Commonwealth will be celebrating.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Sixty-four years ago, Quentin Wadman was a Boy Scout in Kenya. The country was a British colony at the time. Princess Elizabeth was visiting, and there weren't enough police. So the Boy Scouts were called in to line the route.
QUENTIN WADMAN: And we had to wait quite a long time there for the princess to come.
SHAPIRO: Sitting in an East London retirement home all these decades later, Wadman remembers that one of the Boy Scouts fainted from standing at attention too long. Finally, they heard a shout.
WADMAN: And said the princess is coming. Quickly men came and set up a portable throne, a small portable throne. And she sat on the throne for a few minutes.
SHAPIRO: Quentin Wadman had no idea that day, February 5, 1952, would go down in history.
WADMAN: And it was the last day she was a princess. That night, her father died, and she became queen.
SHAPIRO: Queen Elizabeth II. The formal coronation ceremony took place in London the following year. This is archival footage from the BBC.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And here you see more than 30,000 schoolchildren cheering their heads off, having the time of their lives on this coronation day as they see all the queen's horses and men going by.
SHAPIRO: Seventy-six-year-old Roger Bardett vividly remembers that June day in 1953.
ROGER BARDETT: It was a dreadful day, rain, rain, rain all the time. And this coach sort of left Westminster Abbey. And it was still raining. Then there was a sudden - this interval between the showers. And as she drove towards Buckingham Palace, the sun was out. And it seemed quite miraculous that the sun was shining on the new queen.
SHAPIRO: Ninety-four-year-old Leonard Driver has slightly foggier memories of that day.
LEONARD DRIVER: We all watched it. I was probably half drunk all the time (laughter) 'cause the beer was free (laughter).
SHAPIRO: In the 20th century, monarchies crumbled all over the world. The British royal family is a dramatic exception, and many people credit its endurance to the woman who has held the throne for so many years. Robert Lacey is a historian and author who wrote a biography of Elizabeth II.
ROBERT LACEY: I think we're a bit surprised that the monarchy is still here. You think back to the swinging '60s, satire, The Beatles. You wouldn't have given much time for the monarchy then, in the depths of the scandals of the 1990s, Windsor Castle burning down so significantly.
SHAPIRO: Yet, it endured. And here's what makes this queen so different from other world leaders. Her clout does not come from great oration. She's not famous for the memorable words that she has spoken or actions she has taken. In fact, says Lacey, it's exactly the opposite.
LACEY: This absolute refusal to say anything important, this politeness in an age of celebrity when everybody splashes their emotions and their feelings all over their personal phones and politicians do the same, actually someone who respects rules of civility and politeness matters.
SHAPIRO: Today's events capture that quality of hers perfectly. The 89-year-old queen is not celebrating this milestone with fireworks or a palace ball. Instead, she's in Scotland, attending the opening of a new railway line. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.