A Milestone For A Beloved Monarch

A Milestone For A Beloved Monarch

6:25pm Sep 09, 2015
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.
STF / AFP/Getty Images
  • Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.

    Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.

    STF / AFP/Getty Images

  • Queen Elizabeth II and royal family members watch from a balcony at Buckingham Palace during her annual birthday parade in June.

    Queen Elizabeth II and royal family members watch from a balcony at Buckingham Palace during her annual birthday parade in June.

    Chris Jackson / Getty Images

  • Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, arrives for the opening of Britain's Parliament in May.

    Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, arrives for the opening of Britain's Parliament in May.

    Carl Court / Getty Images

  • Princess Elizabeth makes her first broadcast, accompanied by her younger sister, Princess Margaret, in October 1940 in London.

    Princess Elizabeth makes her first broadcast, accompanied by her younger sister, Princess Margaret, in October 1940 in London.

    Getty Images

  • Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, are pictured here in 1933.

    Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, are pictured here in 1933.

    AFP/Getty Images

Today, the 53 countries of the British Commonwealth mark a historic milestone as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

She surpasses Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, seven months and two days.

Queen Victoria, shown here in a portrait made for her Jubilee in 1887, ruled Great Britain for 63 years, seven months and two days.

Queen Victoria, shown here in a portrait made for her Jubilee in 1887, ruled Great Britain for 63 years, seven months and two days.

AP

Sixty-four years ago, Quentin Wadman was a Boy Scout in Kenya, then a British colony.

Elizabeth, then still a princess, was visiting, and there weren't enough police, so the Boy Scouts were called in to line the route.

"We had to wait quite a long time for the princess to come," Wadman recalls.

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: "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," Wadman says.

Neither he nor the rest of the world had any idea that day — Feb. 5, 1952 — would go down in history.

"It was the last day she was a princess," Wadman says. "That night, her father died, and she became queen."

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave to the crowd after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London on June 2, 1953.

STF/AFP/Getty Images

The formal coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II took place in London the following year.

In archival footage from the BBC, a presenter describes that day: "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."

Princess Elizabeth makes her first broadcast, accompanied by her younger sister, Princess Margaret, in October 1940 in London.

Princess Elizabeth makes her first broadcast, accompanied by her younger sister, Princess Margaret, in October 1940 in London.

Getty Images

Roger Bardett, now 76, vividly remembers that June day in 1953.

"It was a dreadful day," he says. "Rain, rain, rain, all the time. And this coach left Westminster Abbey, and it was still raining. Then there was this sudden interval between the showers, and as she drove towards Buckingham Palace, sun was out. And it would seem quite miraculous that the sun was shining on the new queen."

Ninety-four-year-old Leonard Driver has slightly foggier memories of that day.

"We all watched it. I was probably half-drunk at the time, because the beer was free!" he says with a laugh.

In the 20th century, monarchies crumbled all over the world. The British royal family is a dramatic exception.

Queen Elizabeth II and royal family members watch from a balcony at Buckingham Palace during her annual birthday parade in June.

Queen Elizabeth II and royal family members watch from a balcony at Buckingham Palace during her annual birthday parade in June.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

"I think we're a bit surprised that the monarchy is still here," says Robert Lacey, a historian and author who wrote a biography of Elizabeth II. "You think back to the swinging '60s, satire, the Beatles — you wouldn't have given much time for the monarchy then [or] in the depths of the scandals of the 1990s, Windsor Castle burning down so significantly."

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.

Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, are pictured here in 1933.

Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, are pictured here in 1933.

AFP/Getty Images

In fact, says Lacey, it's exactly the opposite.

"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."

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.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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.

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