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Queen Elizabeth Marks 50 Years on Throne - 2002-05-27


Queen Elizabeth II of Britain will commemorate the 50th anniversary of her reign with four days of festivities beginning Saturday, June 1. Royal experts and politicians have been reflecting on the queen's role in modern British society.

Millions of Queen Elizabeth's subjects are planning to celebrate her Golden Jubilee with fireworks, concerts and other events around the country and throughout the Commonwealth of former British colonies.

The most sought-after invitations have been for two Buckingham Palace concerts - one featuring classical music on June 1 and the other pop music event on June 3. More than two million people applied for the 25,000 seats available.

Queen Elizabeth continues to enjoy widespread public support despite the scandals over divorce, drugs and other problems that have beset the younger royals. Polls show the queen's public approval rating consistently around 70 percent.

The Golden Jubilee has been an occasion for royal watchers and politicians to reflect on the monarchy and its relevance to modern-day Britain.

Royal historian Philip Ziegler says Queen Elizabeth has had to manage with Britain's loss of power and prestige on the world stage. "The queen has had a far more difficult task of being the figurehead, the representative figure of a nation in decline. And I think she has handled this with extraordinary dignity and tact and patience. And that, I would say, is her greatest accomplishment," said Mr. Ziegler.

Royal commentator William Shawcross dismisses speculation that Queen Elizabeth might someday give up the throne to her son and heir, Prince Charles. "One can't underestimate her sense of duty," he stressed. "She made this extraordinary pledge when she was 21 to 'serve you, my people for all of my life, whether it be long or short.' And she is determined to carry on to do that."

While some question the need for a queen in the 21st century, Mr. Ziegler says Britain has no real choice. "The strongest guarantee we have that the monarchy will survive is that, when the British people stop and think, and realize what the alternative has got to be - either a powerless figurehead president or an executive president, which I don't think would suit this country at all - then the arguments for playing safe and sticking with what you've got are going to seem very strong indeed," he said.

Queen Elizabeth may not hold any real political power, but she does meet every week with the prime minister to discuss government policy in strictest confidence.

The current prime minister, Tony Blair, says the queen reminded him of his place in history at their first meeting. "She did say to me that Winston Churchill was the first prime minister she dealt with, and that was before I was born. So I got a sense of my relative seniority, or lack of it."

Former Prime Minister James Callaghan said Queen Elizabeth can offer good advice, but he could not always count on it. "I recall one occasion when I was perplexed about a particular problem, and I explained it to her, and I said: 'You know, I really don't know what to do about this. What would you do?' And she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and said, 'That's what you're paid for,'" said Mr. Callaghan.

If there has ever been a general criticism of Queen Elizabeth, it is that she often appears to be aloof and cold to the public.

However, the royal experts say that may change with the recent death of her 101-year-old mother, who was the public's favorite royal.

They say Queen Elizabeth now feels in a way liberated, and the public could transfer its affection to her as the new matriarch of the royal family.

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