After seven happy and glorious decades on the throne the Queen has now become Britain's longest serving monarch. On Wednesday she overtook the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Today, in the fourth of a series of features to mark the historic occasion, we continue our look back at her reign in papers. This time the focus is on the 1990s - a decade which became remembered for the Queen's 'annus horribilis'.
1992: Windsor Castle fire: Queen sees her favourite home ravaged by inferno
By David Williams and Carol Midgley
The Queen was said to be devastated as fire still raged in Windsor Castle early today. She had watched as firefighters battled against the inferno sweeping through her favourite home faster than a man could run.
At one stage she went into the wreckage to help supervise the operation to rescue countless works of art. Prince Andrew, who was in the 900-year-old castle when the fire began at 11.40am and led rescuers into the smoke-filled buildings, spoke of his ‘shock and horror’. Prince Charles was also there to see the damage.
Assessors were waiting for dawn to reveal its full extent, but early estimates put the cost at tens of millions of pounds. It had taken almost 220 firemen more than eight hours to gain control of the blaze and fire chiefs estimated it would be this afternoon at the earliest before it was fully extinguished.
A heritage destroyed: Flames are seen leaping into the night sky as firemen battle the blaze at Windsor Castle on November 20 1992
They had said it was in check yesterday afternoon, but long after nightfall 40ft flames were erupting like a volcano from the Brunswick Tower, where it is thought the fire started during renovation work.
The main problem for firefighters was the height of the castle towers and the fact that the flames could be tackled from only one side. On the other is a 150ft drop, which in Norman times made the castle safe from attack. It was almost 8pm before the fire chiefs announced that the blaze was under control.
The fire spread alarmingly quickly because of the huge amount of timber used in the castle’s construction and the 140ft curtains that adorned St George’s Hall.
The flames snaked along the decorative wooden ceiling, fanned by the draught in the lofty room, and roared into the State Chambers, King John’s Tower, Prince of Wales Tower and Chester Tower.
The private apartments were sealed off from the blaze, although as a precaution the Queen supervised the removal of treasures from the complex of more than 200 rooms. A senior member of the Queen’s Household, responsible for art, collapsed of a suspected heart attack and was taken to Wexham Park Hospital, Slough.
Desperate battle: Firemen pour 420,000 gallons of water an hour on to the flames at Windsor Castle as the blaze rages on through the night
Heartbreaking loss: Lighting up the Windsor night sky with flames leaping 40ft into the air, the castle blaze rages and illuminates the Brunswick Tower, where it is thought the fire started during renovation work
ANDREW: I FORMED A HUMAN CHAIN TO RESCUE TREASURES
Taking charge: Prince Andrew shows a solemn Queen the damage
By John Edwards
There was fire and smoke all around his head and his clothes had begun to smell a bit, Prince Andrew said. Behind him in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, sudden sheets of flame came out of the broken windows and when he had gone, the beams inside St George’s Hall were still alight and spitting.
Andrew waved his arms around to show how the fire had leapt from room to room and he used a thumb to point to a room where he used a phone to tell the Queen how things were going.
The smoke went from yellow through grey to black. And Andrew said he had just brought some carriage clocks out of the state apartments and put them down for a truck to take them to safety.
‘I was in a human chain in there just now and I had hold of some really heavy pieces of furniture, passing it along,’ he said with the disaster roaring away behind his back.
You didn’t need press officers to explain anything in Windsor yesterday because a Prince walked across and took care of it personally. It had never happened before anywhere, any time, and this Castle had been there since William the Conqueror. Andrew was in a maroon crew-neck sweater over a check shirt, like he had been working in a garden. ‘It’s horrific, dreadful, terrible,’ he said. His face was full of excitement though.
‘Can’t say yet,’ the Prince said, when he was asked what treasures had been burned. ‘It’s all got to be catalogued first.’ As he spoke, a Palmer’s removal truck from the Windsor depot pulled away with about £1 million worth of antiques on board.
‘As far as I know, not a great deal of works of art have been destroyed.’ Did you try to save anything special, he was asked? ‘There’s no order. You just get what’s movable.’
What did the Queen say? ‘The Queen is devastated,’ he said. ‘Absolutely devastated. She’s been taking pictures off the wall and stuff out of the castle, works of art, she’s been in there for 30 minutes.
‘Over there is where the state apartments join the private apartments,’ Andrew added, pointing over his shoulder to a first-floor area. ‘We went in and took the tapestries which were held by press studs to the wall.’
There were hundreds of firemen, but he seemed to have been as busy as anyone.
Has any part of the castle collapsed?
‘Oh yes, and there will be more,’ he said.
The Duke of York, who broke the news of the fire to his mother by phone, said she was shocked, particularly that another royal palace had been wrecked following the 1986 Hampton Court disaster: ‘Her Majesty is absolutely devastated.’
The Queen spent last night at Buckingham Palace but is expected to visit Windsor this morning.
The blaze came on her 45th wedding anniversary. Prince Philip, who is visiting Argentina, was being kept in touch with developments. Asked about the Queen’s reaction, Palace Press officer Dickie Arbiter said: ‘Probably the same reaction as yours if you saw your home burning down. Very upset.’
The 1,000-room castle, the largest inhabited house in the world, was built on a site chosen in 1070 by William the Conqueror and survived two world wars without damage. After the recent wave of terrorist attacks it was at first feared the blaze might be the work of the IRA.
Last night several possible causes were being investigated. One was that some alcohol-based fluid might have been split by someone cleaning the works of art and ignited, another was an electrical fault. But what was thought to be most likely was that it was started by hot bitumen being spread by workmen which had fallen onto the curtains and set light to them.
Buckingham Palace said the Castle was not fitted with a sprinkler system because of the damage it could do to the art collection if it was set off by mistake. It would also be impractical to fit in the high vaulted ceilings.
Amid concern at the time it took to get the blaze under control, Reading fire officer Roy Hayward said: ‘It is a massive blaze, very difficult to fight. It’s a difficult building to get into. There is a lot of timber and panelling. Once flames get behind panelling, they spread very quickly.
‘The fire has been surrounded, contained and controlled. It will not be able to spread but it will not be put out until the early hours. It is too dangerous for people to go in there just now. It is too big.’
Just how dangerous was illustrated by the lines of yellow-helmeted firefighters who had crawled across the ancient battlements struggling to stop the blaze spreading towards the state apartments and servants’ quarters.
At one stage radio contact was lost with two firemen, and another was seen to fall towards the heart of the blaze but emerged unscathed.
Members of the public joined labourers, soldiers, palace workers and Gurkhas to form human chains and carry priceless treasures to safety. Stained-glass windows in the sandstone building were smashed as leather-bound books were passed outside and loaded into a convoy of removal vans and Army trucks. Even a horse box was co-opted.
In the courtyard, antique sofas, polished Renaissance tables, Chinese chests and gilt-and-red velvet chairs sat in the open air.
Beside them, on maroon curtains torn from the state windows, were candlestick holders carved from Indian mahogany and fitted with fresh candles, a bronze bust of the Queen and one of Sir Walter Raleigh, a workman’s helmet placed on his head.
Twelve-foot-square unframed paintings of royal ancestors were leant against the walls in the chaotic scene. One woman, carrying a handful of marble and plaster fragments, wandered around asking: ‘Anybody got a paper bag?’
Rembrandts, Holbeins and Canalettos, which form the heart of the world’s greatest private collection of paintings, were passed through dozens of hands and stood propped against one another inside a van. By 10.30pm the flames had disappeared. A lone fireman on a 110ft turntable ladder was still hosing in water. At the height of the inferno, 420,000 gallons an hour were pouring into the building.
Inevitably, damage from the blaze and the water was extensive. The Queen’s 13th-century private chapel, built a few years before Westminster Abbey, had contained unrivalled works of art.
‘It’s a heartbreaking loss,’ said a spokesman for the Royal Institute of Architects. ‘The chapel was beautiful and the works of art inside are quite irreplaceable.’
Home Office Minister Lord Ferrers, who has special responsibility for the fire service, was at the scene last night. He said it was a tragedy that ‘one of the finest examples of English architecture has been set alight’.
A fire officer had told him that as the blaze spread, flames were going up a staircase faster than a human could run.
Two hundred tourists on guided tours were ordered out as firefighters from the castle’s own resident fire brigade tackled the blaze.
As flames began to engulf adjoining buildings it became clear that the fire was far too much for them to cope with and an SOS went out for reinforcements from Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and London.
Dean Lansdale, 21, a sub-contractor for a firm from Sandhurst, Berkshire, was working in the dining room when he heard shouts of ‘fire’. He ran towards the voices and went into the chapel where he was confronted with the blaze.
‘The curtains were on fire and the walls were alight — it was all going up,’ he said.
‘We did fight it, but there was little we could do. We started dragging out paintings into the gallery — I think I managed to get three or four out — but as I went back in for another one I grabbed the frame and it was red hot.
‘It burned my hands quite badly. I was taken to the royal surgery, then I went to the hospital.’
1992: The Queen begs: Please be kind to my family
By David Williams and Gordon Greig
The Queen exposed the wounds inflicted by a year of royal turmoil yesterday.
In a speech of unprecedented frankness, she used Latin to dismiss 1992 as an ‘annus horribilis’ — a horrible year.
She appealed for more understanding and, though the language was coded, appeared to hint that changes might be on the way.
The Queen chose a Guildhall lunch intended as a glittering celebration of the 40th anniversary of her accession to reach out to her subjects.
Without referring specifically to the controversies that have rocked the monarchy, she admitted for the first time that her family was not above criticism. And she appeared to acknowledge public anxieties by adding it was such ‘scrutiny’ that brought about change.
Whitehall suggested last night that the Queen was opening up a new dialogue with her people to signal that she was prepared for reform. She made no direct reference, however, to the issues which have been dominating public debate: whether she will contribute to the estimated £60 million cost of restoring Windsor Castle after last week’s fire, and whether she should pay income tax.
Speaking in a barely audible croak because of a heavy cold, and remaining expressionless throughout, she told the Corporation of London lunch: ‘There can be no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life. No institution — City, monarchy, whatever — should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t.
‘But we are all part of the same fabric of our nation society and scrutiny by one part of another can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humour and understanding. This sort of questioning can also act, and it should do so, as an effective engine for change.’
Though it lasted only ten minutes, the speech was being seen last night as the most significant for the future of the monarchy for more than a decade. It had been planned as the Queen’s ‘thank you’ to the nation for the past 40 years, but on Saturday and Sunday, while staying at fire-ravaged Windsor with the Queen Mother, she completely rewrote it.
ONE'S ANNUS HORRIBILIS: THE SPEECH THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD
WHAT SHE SAID:
In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an 'annus horribilis'.
A well-meaning Bishop was obviously doing his best when he told Queen Victoria: 'Ma'am, we cannot pray too often, nor too fervently, for the Royal Family.' The Queen's reply was: 'Too fervently, no; too often, yes.'
He who has never failed to reach perfection has a right to be the harshest critic.
This sort of questioning can also act, and it should do so, as an effective engine for change.
No institution should expect to be free from scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t. I particularly admire the way in which the City has adapted so nimbly to what the Prayer Book calls ‘the changes and chances of this mortal life’.
You (the City) have set an example of how it is possible to remain effective and dynamic without losing those indefinable qualities, style and character.
...AND WHAT SHE REALLY MEANT
An ironic adaptation of the Latin Annus Mirabilis, the title of a poem written by John Dryden in 1667, meaning The Year Of Wonders. Dryden was trying to gild the image of Charles II by celebrating two victories by the English fleet over the Dutch and the survival by Londoners of the Great Fire of 1666. The Queen turned the phrase on its head in a clever allusion to her family’s troubles, culminating in the Windsor Castle fire. She may have spotted it in The Times earlier this year when it was used in reference to the property market crash.
This may mean pray fervently because, like most mortals, the royals are not without sin — but don’t overdo it. She appears to agree that some of the criticism of her family has been justified but not all. The identity of the Victorian Bishop remains a mystery — his words are not in any of the standard dictionaries of quotations. The tale may well be an apocryphal one. Buckingham Palace said: ‘We do not know the name of the Bishop referred to in this story. If we did, it would have been included in the speech.’
This is a veiled reference to John Chapter 8, in which the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman found guilty of adultery who was to be stoned to death. In Verse 7, Jesus declares: ‘He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.'
By summoning up an image of huge mechanistic forces, she implies the pressure created by the scrutiny is irresistible. Something, she implies, must give. The monarchy has no choice but to change.
Another religious reference. The Prayer Book’s words about the ‘changes and chances of this mortal life’ come from the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. Significantly, the full text asks the Lord for guidance to ‘dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation!’ After admiring how ‘nimbly’ the City has adapted to survive, perhaps she is hinting she is genuinely seeking to perform the same feat.
The Queen has always trod a fine line in sustaining the monarchy. On the one hand, the constitutional textbook Bagehot suggests maintaining the idea of mystery and mystique is essential. But, on the other, she realises the dangers of being seen as insulated from economic reality and out of touch with modern society.
Momentous: The Queen delivers her moving speech at the Guildhall (pictured)
In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an 'annus horribilis'
Considerable importance was being placed last night on the fact that the Queen Mother had been present. Prince Philip and the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes, are also understood to have been consulted over the contents.
Pondering on how 1992 would be looked back on, she said: ‘I dare say that history will take a rather more moderate view than that of the contemporary commentators. Distance is well known to lend enchantment, even to the less attractive views. After all, it has the inestimable advantage of hindsight.
‘But it can also lend an extra dimension to judgment, giving it a leavening of moderation and compassion that is sometimes lacking in the reaction of those whose task it is in life to offer instant opinions on all things great and small.’
This was seen as a reference to the Press coverage of recent months, much of it spurred by the publication of Andrew Morton’s controversial biography of Diana. Many had expected the Queen to use the Guildhall platform to attack the Press, but it was seen as significant that she made no overt criticism.
What she did say was: ‘No section of community has all the virtues, neither does any have all the vices. I am quite sure that most people try to do their jobs as best they can, even if the result is not entirely successful. He who has never failed to reach perfection has a right to be the harshest critic.’
THAT WAS THE QUEEN'S HORRIBLE YEAR THAT WAS
Princess Beatrice perches happily on the knee of oil tycoon Steve Wyatt, 38, (left), while Diana pays a solo visit to the Taj Mahal (right)
Princess Beatrice perches happily on the knee of oil tycoon Steve Wyatt, 38. But the snap’s publication leads to speculation about his friendship with the Duchess of York. It is one of 120 taken on a secret holiday in the South of France and found in a cupboard in a London flat used by the Texan.
The Princess of Wales pays a solo visit to the Taj Mahal, the world’s greatest monument to love, and the picture emphasised her loneliness. She is touring India with her husband, but instead of taking the opportunity to reassure the world about the state of their marriage, he is meeting business leaders. His wife may long for a comforting hug, but that is the last thing the Queen wants from Australian Premier Paul Keating. She gets one, though, in an astonishing breach of protocol during a visit to Sydney.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the Duke and Duchess of York, are pictured in 1987, five years before the couple separated
The Palace announces that the Duke and Duchess of York are to separate. The Queen’s press secretary, Charles Anson, offers a public apology to the Queen and the Duchess after an off-the-record briefing to a BBC correspondent, who then reported that ‘the knives are out for Fergie’.
Princess Anne's marriage to Captain Mark Phillips ended after 18 years. The couple are pictured at their wedding ceremony in 1973
The 18-year marriage of the Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips ends in a four-minute ‘quickie’ divorce. The union of one so close to the Throne and a commoner was described by Dame Barbara Cartland as a ‘historical experiment’. It proved to be a historic failure.
The Princess of Wales is pictured left breaking down in tears during an engagement on Merseyside, while the Duchess of York is seen with her 'financial adviser' John Bryan (right)
Princess Diana breaks down in tears during an engagement on Merseyside. It is only days after the publication of the biography Diana: Her True Story, which claims she feels ‘trapped in a loveless marriage’, suffered from bulimia nervosa and has made suicide attempts.
An astonishing collection of photographs are published showing a topless Duchess of York kissing her ‘financial adviser’ John Bryan during a French holiday. Details are published of an intimate telephone conversation said to be between Princess Diana and her friend James Gilbey, in which he calls her ‘Squidgy’ and professes his love.
Major James Hewitt (pictured left), Princess Diana's friend, issued a libel writ after speculation about their relationship, two months before a fire destroys seven state apartments at Windsor Castle — the Queen’s favourite home (right)
Princess Diana’s friend Major James Hewitt issues a libel writ after days of feverish speculation about their relationship. The Duchess of York weeps at her first public appearance since the publication of the topless photos.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana look in opposite directions during a Korean War commemorative service in South Korea in 1992
During a visit to Korea, Charles and Diana are dubbed the ‘Glums’. An updated version of Diana: Her True Story, by Andrew Morton, claims the Princess has been ostracised by the Queen. Diana issues an unprecedented statement denying any rift with the Queen or Prince Philip. Weeks later, Prime Minister John Major announces to the House of Commons that Charles and Diana are to separate.
A fire destroys seven state apartments at Windsor Castle — the Queen’s favourite home. The Duke of York, who helped rescue many works of art, says his mother is ‘devastated’.
The Queen, who received a standing ovation, ended by thanking everyone whose prayers had sustained her throughout the years.
Whitehall sources dismiss the idea that her acceptance for the need for change inside the Royal Family was any sort of kite-flying about a possible retirement. But that strongly suggests that calls for the Civil List to be reduced have been heeded and that some gesture is in the offing about paying tax on income from her £6 billion fortune.
Prime Minister John Major considered the Guildhall occasion so important that he cancelled a meeting with Dutch leaders in The Hague to be sure he was present. In the months of crisis for the monarchy, he has struck up a very warm relationship with the Queen. It is said he has proved a sympathetic listener.
This is in stark contrast to relations between Buckingham Palace and Lady Thatcher. On the surface, they seemed impeccable, if slightly chilly, but in private the former premier is said to have been the target of patronising treatment by the Palace establishment because of her readiness to take hard decisions that upset the Queen.
1997: Diana's death, the aftermath: The Queen comes back to grieve with her people
By Richard Kay and David Williams
The Queen came face to face with the nation’s tears yesterday for the first time — and apologised for staying at Balmoral so long.
Six days after Diana’s death, she finally put herself among her people. It was potentially one of the most difficult days of her reign, but in the space of a few minutes, with the Duke of Edinburgh at her side, she lifted the cloud of tension which has hung over the thousands who came to London to pay their respects.
What she found were the kind of scenes unprecedented in her 45 years on the throne — a sea of people, an unbelievable carpet of flowers and a tangible feeling that something in the monarchy surely now has to change.
We will all miss Diana: Dressed in black, the Queen mingles easily with crowds of mourners outside the gates of Buckingham Palace
But yesterday she was allowed simply to be a woman whose family and, in particular, whose grandchildren, had been devastated by bereavement.
A gentle ripple of applause sounded out at Buckingham Palace as, dressed in black, the Queen and Duke arrived.
She and Prince Philip mingled easily with the crowds, thanking them for their ‘patience’ as she told one woman, and accepting bouquets.
A carpet of flowers: The Queen and Prince Philip walk among some of the estimated one million bouquets left by a devoted public
Later they spent about 30 minutes in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, paying their respects to Diana and signing the book of condolence.
In an unprecedented speech on TV and radio, only the second live broadcast of her reign, she described Diana as an exceptional and gifted human being whom she had both admired and respected.
Although she omitted the word ‘love’, she was generous in her praise of the Princess and also remembered the family of Dodi Fayed.
The speech, and the Queen’s earlier walkabouts, appear to have gone a long way towards answering the bitter criticism of the Royal Family’s earlier failure to pay tribute to Diana and to remain at Balmoral.
At Kensington Palace, Prince Charles and his sons, William and Harry, stood in awe at the sheer scale of the public outpouring of grief through flowers, messages and gifts.
At 8pm last night, Diana’s coffin was taken from St James’s Palace to rest overnight at her apartment at Kensington Palace, from where the funeral cortege will leave for Westminster Abbey today.
Thousands camped out along the two-mile route last night. More than two million are expected to line the streets while another 2.5 billion will watch on TV worldwide.
Both William and Harry will walk the last mile of the journey with Charles and Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer.
One minute’s silence will follow the hour-long service, which has been tailored to reflect all aspects of Diana’s life and will include a reworked version of Candle In The Wind sung by Elton John.
The million bunches of flowers laid in Diana’s memory will remain in place over the weekend.
Then all the messages of condolence will be collected and given to her family.
The Princess will be buried on an island in a lake on the Althorp Park estate in Northamptonshire, rather than in the family chapel in the tiny village of Great Brington nearby.
Just after the Queen’s broadcast, it was announced that Mother Teresa, one of Diana’s role models and great friends, had died in Calcutta aged 87.
The Albanian-born nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner dedicated her life to helping the downtrodden. The Palace described her death as ‘an extremely sad coincidence’.
Hopes raised as flag lowers
The Royal Standard was raised to the top of the flagpole that had remained empty all week at 2.40pm yesterday. It coincided, as ever, with the Queen’s return and signalled that the Sovereign was back in residence.
Then it fell . . . to half-mast. But it was not the break with protocol which many had requested. It was an error by staff, who quickly hoisted it back up.
The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast in mourning, even at the death of a monarch, as there is always a Sovereign on the Throne. A Union flag will be flown at half-mast over the Palace for today’s funeral.
Up: The Royal Standard is raised to the top of the flagpole (left) before it is lowered to half-mast in error (right) but quickly raised again
FROM THE HEART, QUEEN'S MOVING WORDS
Exceptional: The Queen pays tribute to Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997, calling her an 'exceptional and gifted human being' who she said 'never lost her capacity to smile and laugh'
Since last Sunday’s dreadful news we have seen, throughout Britain and around the world, an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana’s death.
We have all been trying in our different ways to cope. It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: disbelief, incomprehension, anger — and concern for those who remain.
We have all felt those emotions in these past few days. So what I say to you now, as your Queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart. First, I want to pay tribute to Diana myself. She was an exceptional and gifted human being.
In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her — for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys.
This week at Balmoral, we have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered. No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her.
I for one believe that there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death.
I share in your determination to cherish her memory. This is also an opportunity for me, on behalf of my family, and especially Charles and William and Harry, to thank all of you who have brought flowers, sent messages and paid your respects in so many ways to a remarkable person.
These acts of kindness have been a huge source of help and comfort. Our thoughts are also with Diana’s family and the families of those who died with her.
I know that they, too, have drawn strength from what has happened since last weekend, as they seek to heal their sorrow and then to face the future without a loved one.
I hope that tomorrow we can all, wherever we are, join in expressing our grief at Diana’s loss, and gratitude for her all-too-short life. It is a chance to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief and respect.
May those who died rest in peace and may we, each and every one of us, thank God for someone who made many, many people happy.
1999: New Year's Eve in the dome: The Blairs and a royal look that says it all
By Paul Harris
It was meant to be a moment of joy and hope for the future — a once-in-a-thousand-years celebration when the world ushered out the 20th century and welcomed in the new Millennium.
But as Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie joined with the Queen to sing Auld Lang Syne, Her Majesty looked as though she would rather be anywhere else in her kingdom than partying with the Blairs.
Perhaps a traditional Royal Family Hogmanay at Sandringham, with a warming glass of single malt. Or a royal tour of a distant Commonwealth country — Australia would be far enough away.
A less-than-cheery Monarch is pictured with the singing Tony and Cherie Blair at the opening of the Millennium Dome on New Year's Eve
But the Queen is made of sterner stuff and if it was her duty to endure the mayhem of the opening of the Millennium Dome and an evening with Mr and Mrs Blair, then so be it.
A refreshing glass of champagne must have helped. Obviously the singing of the raucous Auld Lang Syne is not part of the House of Windsor’s New Year’s Eve traditions because the Queen forgot to cross her arms before joining hands with the Prime Minister and Prince Philip.
The Blairs seemed oblivious to the Queen’s reservations and sang out with gusto along with 10,000 guests at the Millennium Dome party.
Earlier, at 11.45pm, Her Majesty asked eight children to help her pull the ropes that revealed the Dome in its entirety for the first time since the idea of marking the Millennium with this dramatic new building was first mooted in the early Nineties.
The children walked calmly across the stage then broke into a race to be first to pull the golden ropes. What lay behind them is likely to be the subject of controversy and argument for at least the next year, if not longer. But even if history decides the Dome was a £758 million mistake, the evening was one to remember.
Cheers: The Queen toasts the new Millennium alongside her husband Prince Philip as the Blairs watch on in the background
The Queen arrived with the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal and her husband, Commodore Timothy Laurence, by boat after lighting the Millennium Beacon.
Singer Ruby Jones gave the first public performance of a revamped version of the National Anthem. Cherie Blair was the only one in the front row of the royal section to sing and clap along to the Beatles’ classic All You Need Is Love.
It was the broadcast sound of Big Ben that ushered in the new Millennium and the 21st century and gave the signal for quite a few inhibitions to be laid aside.
In the main part of the Dome, the party was in full swing with champagne corks popping and strangers embracing.
But in the royal section there was just a touch of the chill January air.
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She is the best-known woman in the world, and she has been since 1952 when Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, at age 25, became Queen Elizabeth II. Although she has a huge list of titles, she is to most people simply The Queen. And she has been the only British monarch in most people's lives: She has always seemingly been there.
Once Queen Elizabeth was young and quite pretty; now she is old and quite beloved. She works very hard, whether it is presiding over meetings with prime ministers -- she has dealt with 12 of them, starting with Winston Churchill -- or applying herself to an endless schedule of charity events. She has visited 116 countries. I have always wondered at her incredible tolerance, no endurance, at watching cultural events in faraway lands: How many children's choirs, folk dancers or synchronized gymnasts can a human being watch? In the case of the queen, the number seems to have been infinite.
When she came to the throne, she set off a surge of hope in Britain and the Commonwealth. Popular mythology, as I remember, held that a new Queen Elizabeth would bring a revival of fortune for Britain -- the second Elizabethan period would be as great as the first Queen Elizabeth's reign, from 1558 to 1603.
After World War II, Britain was adjusting to a new order in most things, including the social changes introduced by the Labor government immediately after the war, such as national health insurance, and the recognition that Britain was no longer be the preeminent world power, ruling a quarter of the world. The empire was shrinking, and Britain felt exhausted and lessened.
But the new, young queen signaled hope, and the royal family shot to a position of public adulation. I remember covering the wedding of the queen's sister, Princess Margaret, to the photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, when Britain went was in a kind of royal hysteria. That began to fade as the decade wore on, and that marriage began to creak and eventually dissolve.
As royal scandals multiplied and Britain became a trendsetter in fashion and the arts, Princess Diana, during and after her marriage to Prince Charles, stole much of the queen's thunder.
The queen said her worst year was 1992, which she famously called an "annus horribilis" in a Nov. 24 speech at Guildhall to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession. Newspapers wondered whether the monarchy was finished and whether it would either give way to a republican Britain or to one where the constitutional monarch was of little importance, as in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.
But Queen Elizabeth persevered and, she just turned 89, is more loved than ever. She is slightly old-fashioned, even as Buckingham Palace is anxious to remind us she emails and tweets.
She is a fabulous piece of English bric-a-brac in her omnipresent hat and gloves. Though perfectly dressed in her way, she is not a fashion idol. She was a fine horsewoman. She attends cultural events, but seems only to have a passion for horses and dogs. Critics have faulted her for how limited she is in some ways. It may be that at this point, she is as much an anachronism as the monarchy, and there is strength in that.
No longer do comedians make fun of her piping voice and her ability to ride out gaffes, like the time in Canada when she read the wrong speech, having forgotten which city she was visiting. The British might have come to love her for her famously dysfunctional family -- even Charles, her quirky son and heir to the throne. Scandals have touched all of her family, excepting herself and her husband Prince Philip, although one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting told me that he was busy in that circle when he was young.
When she does die, Britain will enter into the most extraordinary period of mourning, followed a year or so later by a coronation. The change will be enormously expensive, from the queen's burial to the coronation of the king. Tens of thousands of items stamped with ER (Elizabeth Regina) or the queen's face, including mailboxes, stamps and the 20-pound note, will have to be changed.
Happily and gloriously, after 62 years as queen, Elizabeth is, physically as well as emotionally, part of British life. She is also, in a way, the world's queen.
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