Queen Elizabeth Celebrates Birthday as Oldest British Monarch to Rule

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Queen Elizabeth II turned 85 years old today and is now the oldest British monarch ever to rule, having served as queen for 59 years.

She grew up in a world of luxury. Her parents had 83 personal servants each, five palaces, nine thrones and official duties.

At 14, she was sent to comfort Britain's children during World War II. "We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well," she said in a wartime radio broadcast.

In 1947, there was such reverence for the monarchy that the British people donated their ration cards so she could have material for her wedding dress.

Six years later, Elizabeth was crowned queen at the age of 27. Film of her coronation was flown across the Atlantic so it could be broadcast on American television.

She was the first monarch to invite cameras into the palace. "It is inevitable that I should seem distant to you," she said in 1957.

Back then, she could not have dreamed that her polite tour of the Buckingham Palace would presage the scalding intrusion of cameras into every part of royal life. Still, there has been no wall higher than the one protecting her privacy -- though snippets of her personal life have been shared.

Elizabeth: Grandmother, Gin Lover, Horsewoman

She's a grandmother willing to corral a runaway little Prince William. She likes gin with Dubonnet, it's said, at the end of the day in front of the telly. She's not just a good horsewoman; she's a rider with preternatural calm.

During a ceremonial ride in 1977, random gunshots rang out, spooking the horse she was riding but not Elizabeth. And when a bizarre intruder broke into her bedroom at the palace in 1982, reports said "she talked her way out by offering to get him a cigarette."

Yet her equilibrium was rocked in 1997 when she seemed to feel no public connection to the anguish over the death of Princess Diana. Queen Elizabeth famously had to be dragged into the new world of public emotion.

"I admired her [Diana], especially her dedication to her two young boys," she said in 1997.

Elizabeth: Soldier of Self-Discipline

In one sense, Elizabeth is the last queen to be bred as a soldier of self-discipline. Armored in convention, she is a monument to 1,000 years of England as it used to be.

"If she lives as long as her mother, she could go another 15 years, 16 years, which will put Charles around about 78," Dickie Arbiter, former press secretary to the queen, told the Royal Diary. "She has sworn an oath to the people. She is committed until the day she draws her last breath."

Her dedication was clear even when she was a 16-year-old princess.

"I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great, imperial family to which we all belong," she said.