LONDON – Her 60-year reign began amid gloomy post-World War II austerity, but Queen Elizabeth II has seen social and technological changes transform the world from her seat on Britain's throne. From a man setting foot on the Moon to the fall of Communism, the queen has witnessed dramatic world events, and withstood the challenges posed her sometimes troublesome family.
Key milestones in the queen's reign:
PRINCESS ELIZABETH BECOMES QUEEN
Then aged 25, Princess Elizabeth becomes queen as she is told of the death of her father, King George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952, while staying at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya. Newly disclosed home video footage, filmed by her husband Prince Philip, shows a pensive but determined young woman boarding a flight back to Britain to bury her father and assume her duties as monarch.
CORONATION, AND A STEP INTO THE TELEVISION ERA
Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in a solemn ceremony on June 2, 1953, at London's Westminster Abbey, the venue where she had married Prince Philip of Greece six years earlier. Crowds line up across London to see the queen travel to and from the ceremony, while an estimated 20 million watch on television, after the new monarch requests the event be broadcast as the first televised coronation.
THE MODERN ROYALS
As Britain shakes off the era of wartime austerity and strict social codes during the 1960s — the decade of swinging London, the Beatles and a lifestyle revolution — the queen brings change to the monarchy. In 1969, she authorizes the first television documentary about her life, which features unguarded footage of the Duke of Edinburgh cooking sausages on a barbeque and the queen chatting to then-U.S. President Richard Nixon. Critics complain it destroyed forever the mystique of royal life.
BEFORE THE FALLOUTS, A FAIRYTALE WEDDING
After a brief courtship, the queen's eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, marries Lady Diana Spencer, a bride 13 years his junior and known at the time as shy, timid and wary of the public spotlight. Their July 29, 1981, wedding at St Paul's Cathedral before 3,500 guests and a television audience of around 750 million is seen as safeguarding the future of Britain's monarchy. Diana soon blossoms into a major figure in British public life, feted for her charity work and love of fashion.
QUEEN CHATS WITH PALACE INTRUDER
Displaying the regal calm which would come to typify her reign, the queen shows little panic on July 9, 1982, when Michael Fagan, a mentally disturbed petty criminal, climbs up a drain pipe and breaks into the her bedroom. Unruffled, the queen sits the 31-year-old down at the end of her bed and chats to him for around 10 minutes until police arrive. Fagan is later sent to a mental hospital. The queen shows similar cool in 1981, when a young man aims a pistol at her as she parades on horseback and fires six blank cartridges.
THE ANNUS HORRIBILIS
The queen suffers a wounding year of family woes, as her daughter Princess Anne divorces, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separate, and so do Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah — after she is pictured in a tabloid sunbathing topless with an American financial adviser. Windsor Castle, one of the queen's favored homes, suffers extensive damage in a major fire sparked when a spotlight ignited a curtain. In a speech, the queen labels the year her "annus horribilis" — or horrible year.
DEATH OF DIANA
The death of Diana in an August 31, 1997, car accident in Paris brings the lowest point of the queen's reign. Amid a huge outpouring of public grief for her troublesome ex-daughter-in-law, the queen is widely criticized for an apparent reluctance to return to London from her home in Scotland, and over her initial hesitancy to publicly comment. Under public pressure — and after then-Prime Minister Tony Blair makes an emotional tribute to Diana — the queen ditches royal protocol and makes a television broadcast urging the nation to unite in its grief.
In 2002, the queen marks 50 years on the throne with a national celebration of her Golden Jubilee that sees street parties, a pop concert at Buckingham Palace and a spectacular parade through central London. Making a rare speech, the queen reflects on the progress Britain had made since the end of World War II and the gloomy national outlook at the beginning of her reign. "Anyone who can remember what things were like after those six long years of war, appreciates what immense changes have been achieved since then," she says.
A NEW ROYAL GENERATION
At Westminster Abbey, the queen sees her grandson Prince William marry Kate Middleton in an April 29, 2011, ceremony that brings a revival of the monarchy's popularity in Britain. A television audience estimated at two billion people watches live as Kate curtsies before the queen, and the monarch joins the couple on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, as they kiss before cheering crowds.
A flotilla of 1,000 boats sails along the River Thames in a colorful waterborne pageant to mark the queen's 60th year as monarch. The queen braves downpours of rain to take in the festivities during four days of celebrations, though she is spotted with earplugs at a raucous pop concert outside her Buckingham Palace home. However, amid the festivities, her husband Prince Philip is hospitalized with a minor complaint, a reminder of the couple's advancing years.