A Queen for the Internet Generation

Two years ago, she famously confessed to never having even used a computer, but now Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is keen to show the world that she is in step with the times. To prove it, she's become the first monarch to have her own YouTube channel.

The Web site was launched Sunday, with 18 videos showing state visits, royal garden parties and rarely seen footage of the 1923 wedding of the queen's parents.

But the most-viewed clip so far is newsreel footage of the queen's first televised Christmas speech -- the only speech she writes on her own, without government advice -- filmed five decades ago.

In 1957, when the queen decided to broadcast her annual Christmas message live to Britain and its remaining colonies, she spoke of her hopes that "this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct."

Her latest tryst with technology is believed to have emerged at her granddaughters' urging. According to the British newspaper The Observer, the queen was unfamiliar with the popular video-sharing Web site, until her granddaughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, sold her on the YouTube phenomenon.

A statement from Buckingham Palace said that "the queen always keeps abreast with new ways of communicating with people," pointing out that last year, her Christmas message was podcast as well as broadcast. This year the address will be simulcast live on TV and on the Web site.

From Broadcast to Webcast: A Monarch's Journey

According to Camilla Tominey, royal editor of the British tabloid the Sunday Express, the queen has expressed a desire to "embrace new media."

And, as a grandmother to eight, the queen's interest in reaching out to a younger audience is hardly surprising. Her grandson and second in line to the throne, Prince William, reportedly gave her an iPod last year.

"She apparently has an e-mail account," Tominey told ABC News. And according to newspaper reports this summer, not only does the queen own a BlackBerry, giving her instant access to her e-mail, but she had also equipped her staff with BlackBerrys at the advice of her younger son, the duke of York.

Given her closeness to her grandchildren, avid fans of Web sites like Facebook, the queen's leap into cyberspace is not surprising.

But, according to Tominey, "The queen has always been aware of technological advances."

"Even within the royal family, Prince Philip and the queen are especially forward-thinking. They are far from the ivory tower conception that some people may have of the royal family."

Will This Spark a Download Frenzy?

Since its launch , the queen's 1957 televised speech on YouTube has garnered more than 400,000 hits.

Nevertheless, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said it was unlikely to beat the television broadcast's popularity.

"It's symbolic," he said, describing the site as "a gesture by the queen to show that the monarchy is in line with changing times."

"This move essentially shows us how the royal family is able to reinvent itself while still remaining traditional," Fitzwilliams said.

And as Tominey put it, "If she's seen to be embracing a younger audience, that can only be a good thing."

But will it inspire teenagers and 20- and 30-somethings to pause and tune in to the royal channel to hear the queen's Christmas message this year?

"I think the queen's popularity is amazing as it is," Fitzwilliams pointed out, "so this is unlikely to make much of a difference."

He did concede that "having this site is another step is making it a little more user-friendly for people to obtain information about the queen … and the royal family's movements."

British newspapers have been unanimously supportive of the queen's latest foray into the world of technology, with even the Telegraph recalling her 1957 "masterstroke" in televising the Christmas message.

A columnist for the left-leaning newspaper the Guardian congratulated the monarch, but observed that "you need to make it more fun for the Internet generation."

With ambitious plans to add more archival as well as current footage, and to get text translated into French, Spanish, German, Italian and Hindi, the royal Web site is only in its early stages.

And after a weekend that saw Britain's foremost royal historian David Starkey criticize the queen for her "philistine" attitude to culture, the announcement of this channel could not have come at a better time.

"She completely upstaged him," Tominey laughed.

"One doesn't ask a sovereign to be a museum curator, or whatever he expected her to be," Tominey said, adding, "and anyway, it's not true. She's known to be very well-informed."

Now, she can add well-connected to her list of attributes.

In less than 48 hours, almost 10,000 people have subscribed to the new channel. How many will log on to watch her Christmas speech Tuesday is anyone's guess, but the level of interest generated by the announcement alone suggests that audience figures won't be too shabby.

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