The Royal Family: Behind the Palace Walls

For the first time, cameras document a year in the life of the royal family.

ByABC News
September 18, 2008, 9:54 AM

Feb. 29, 2008— -- London is one of the world's modern metropolises, but it is also the seat of a monarchy that has survived wars, famine, pestilence, scandal, even democracy.

There is an inevitable air of mystery about royalty and what really goes on behind the palace walls. In the documentary "The Royal Family," anchored by Barbara Walters, ABC News offers a rare glimpse of the most famous royalty in the world -- the royal family of Great Britain.

From Queen Elizabeth II to Prince William and Prince Harry, the documentary crew from RDF USA filmed the British monarchy for more than a year, and was given unparalleled access to the working monarchy and its private spaces and lives. Culled from hundreds of hours of footage of the queen and her family in both public and private settings, this special offers unprecedented access to the royal family.

Queen Elizabeth II has reigned from Buckingham Palace for 55 years, and her family, for centuries. Last summer, in the queen's private reception area on the second floor of the palace, four generations of royalty and a likely future king gathered to celebrate her official birthday.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful occasion, and it's done so, so well," Prince Charles said.

"I remember so well, when I was small, I was always looking up at people with wonderful uniforms on, you know, and breast plates and egalettes and always wanting to pull swords out and so on," said Prince Charles. "It's so funny to see it happening, you know, and other generations all wanting to do the same thing."

The event itself symbolizes the paradoxes of a modern monarchy. The official celebration of the queen's birthday is in June, at the height of the tourist season. Yet she was born in April.

The birthday party is very private, but outside the palace, thousands gathered for the public celebration. It all started with a full-dress royal procession through the streets.

At the Horseguards Parade, one of her majesty's regiment troops presented the colors. Then it was back to the palace, where the queen, next to her granddaughter Beatrice, kept up with the festivities outside.

"The fly-past on the same day as the troop and the color represents the Royal Air Force's annual tribute to her majesty, the queen," said GP Cpt. Bob Judson. "This year is particularly special from the point of view in that it's much bigger than it has been in the recent past. A fly-past such as this is nearly 24 miles long. It's 49 aircraft that'll actually be flying over at the palace, and that's one of the biggest runs we've done for many years."

"It's going extremely well," said Air Vice Marshal Christopher Marshall. "The Battle of Britain memorial flight has just overflown Buckingham Palace, exactly on track, exactly on time."

The queen has been the heir apparent to her father, King George VI, since she was 10 years old. He lived to see her marry Prince Phillip in 1947, and only the fact that the king had no sons was what put Elizabeth on the throne at the age of 25, when her father died five years later.

Elizabeth II will turn 82 next month. Buckingham Palace is host not only to celebrations in her honor but to visits from heads of state from around the world.