Queen Elizabeth II quietly turns 90

Gregory Katz
Associated Press

London – — The longest-reigning monarch in British history turns 90 on Thursday, but Queen Elizabeth II is not planning a major, fireworks-filled celebration to mark the happy occasion.

Just a gentle stroll outside the grounds of Windsor Castle, the lighting of a beacon, and a night at home with family are all that are on the royal plate.

No, she’ll save the pomp and ceremony for her next birthday. The monarch is such an eminent figure in British life that she gets two birthdays each year, one on the actual date of her birth, April 21, and one official birthday in June, when there is at least a reasonable hope of dry, sunny parade weather.

Her customary reticence hasn’t kept the nation’s media from going slightly bonkers at the approaching milestone. ITV has already aired a celebratory “Our Queen at 90” documentary to pump up its Easter ratings, and Tatler magazine not only put the queen on its cover, foregoing the youthful socialites that are its typical cover fare, but published a special supplement in her honor.

The birthday events Thursday can be considered a dress rehearsal for the official celebrations planned in early June. It also opens the door to a rolling birthday season that will last a full six weeks, climaxing with hundreds of celebrations large and small.

“June is when everything is happening. That’s the great big extravaganza, the street parties and everything,” said Sophia Money-Coutts, Tatler’s features director. “From now on, the coverage will be relentless. The republicans will be screaming.”

Indeed, it’s not a good time for those who oppose the monarchy to peek above the parapet. The British public’s considerable affection for the queen surfaces at times of national celebration — witness the million-plus crowd that cheered her outside the Buckingham Palace gates at her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

The queen and the royals have endured some low points in the last two decades, particularly around the time of the death of Princess Diana in 1997, but their popularity has rebounded with the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton and the arrival of their two children, Prince George — now third in line to the throne — and Princess Charlotte.

“It’s just a golden moment for the whole family after a tricky few years,” Money-Coutts said. “And the queen is the figurehead of all that, with the line of succession pretty assured. They are going through a glorious period.”

Elizabeth — with her familiar smile, colorful outfits and eccentric if expensive hats — seems oddly impervious to time. If she is tired, it doesn’t show. She has softened her schedule, as a concession to 89 and counting, and she has cut back on grueling plane journeys, but she shows no sign of physical or mental frailty.

Neither does her 94-year-old husband Prince Philip, despite several serious health scares that included a medical intervention to open clogged heart arteries.

Both still seem to be going strong, although their children and grandchildren are increasingly stepping in to handle royal duties ranging from the routine, like opening a hospital ward, to the more substantial such as attending a meeting of Commonwealth heads of state.

Elizabeth and Philip say little in public, but the ITV documentary was revealing about the family dynamics because William, Kate and Prince Harry all spoke about the queen, breaking the normal code of silence that governs their relations.