LONDON, Jan. 29, 2009 -- During 56 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has had 11 Prime Ministers, visited 128 different countries, launched 17 ships, and sent roughly 37,500 Christmas cards.
The majority of us cannot remember life without the Queen.
"She is essential to being British," 74 year-old, Ann Campbell from Edinburgh, told ABCNews. Reverence towards the Queen is by no means unique to Britain, or to the countries she reigns over, she commands respect wherever she goes.
The prominent members of the British monarchy span three generations: the Queen, her son Charles, and her grandsons', William and Harry.
Bridging the generation gap, Charles, the Prince of Wales, celebrated his 60th Birthday on November 14. Being the first in line to the throne is no easy position: "The Queen is an incredibly difficult act to follow," Sky News Royal Correspondent, Sarah Hughes, told ABCNews.
But Charles, once seen as fuddy-duddy, is finally achieving respect. At the age of 40, his marriage with Diana, the Princess of Wales, was breaking down amid rumors of infidelity. At 50, just a year after the death of Diana, there were still a huge amount of raw emotions surrounding the Royal Family.
Now, Charles has been able to marry Camilla, his former mistress; and his interest in homeopathy and climate change has proved to be pioneering. He is enjoying success in The Prince's Trust, which helps underprivileged youths; in his entrepreneurial feat, the organic brand, Duchy Originals; and in having raised the Princes, William and Harry, as a single father.
It is William and Harry who generate the real interest, and adoring fans. Like father, like son, the Princes are the nations' most eligible bachelors. Groups, such as facebook's "I'd Marry Prince Harry....and Prince William" are brimming with members eager to take William's advice and imagine him naked (at a charity launch last year this was the Prince's tip to a nervous speaker). Their polo-playing, jet-set lifestyles – textbook pastimes for princes - appeal to some, but not to all.
Indeed, in this age of equality and meritocracy, the survival of a hereditary monarch is pretty incredible, or, as republicans would say, abominable.
One anti-Royal website, Throneout.com has the motto: "They're overpaid, inbred spongers, that's why it's only a matter of time before they're Throne Out." A more formal option, Republic.org.uk, simply reads: "Campaigning for a democratic alternative to the monarchy". Republic has specific targets, such as, "BBC your Royal reporting is biased and deferential" and "Royal Finances: calling for transparency and accountability".
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Following this incident, Republic Campaign Manager, Graham Smith, released the following statement: "William has abused his position and status. The way in which William used military aircraft for personal purposes is symptomatic of the attitude of the Royals as a whole. Republic is calling for a full investigation into the relationship between our armed forces and the royal family."
ABCNews asked Smith why the Royal Family is not relevant today: "the monarchy is dysfunctional and undemocratic. In Britain it is the centre of our constitution and the source of what it wrong with our constitution."
Smith's main gripe is the power that the monarchy gives to the Prime Minister: "It creates King Gordon, rather than Queen Elizabeth. The Prime Minister loves this power: no constitution is needed; sovereignty comes from the top, not from the people. Whereas, in America power comes from the people: the U.S. government can only do what the people want them to do, but in this country the government, can do anything they want."
The permanence of the British Royal family may be due to their awareness of the need to modernize.
During ten years as BBC Royal Correspondent, Nicholas Witchell has found the Queen to be "very aware of the need to move with the times, but at a pace she feels comfortable with." The aftermath of Princess Diana's death in 1997 was a critical time for Her Majesty because it became clear that the nation saw the Royal Family as austere, cold and out-of-touch. There was a realization in Buckingham palace that it needed to make itself less distant.
A clear sign that the Queen is accepting modernization can be seen in the Princes' girlfriends, Kate Middleton and recent ex Chelsy Davy: "Neither William's nor Harry's girlfriend, would have been deemed suitable 30 years ago," BBC Royal Correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, told ABCNews.
Yet, there is still an element of snobbery; last April when William split-up with Kate "there were lots of comments from so-called friends who used to say 'doors to manual' when Kate walked in and out of the room in a reference to her parents' former professions as cabin crew," Hughes told ABCNews.
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As for Prince Harry's former girlfriend, 22 year-old Londoner, Natacha Tonissoo, remembers her from school: "Chelsy was great fun and so down-to-earth; she's not your typical English girl, not like Harry's standard crowd. " Tonissoo told ABCNews.
It is through their military careers that William and Harry have been able to experience true camaraderie and a sense of normality: there is no royalty on the frontline. The Princes have broken away from the family tradition of joining the navy; Harry now plans to further his military career by becoming a helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps. On October 31st, the Prince was made an honorary Gurkha in recognition for his work as an officer in the Afghan Helmand Province. Captain Surya Gurung from the Royal Gurkha Rifles explained the significance of this honor: "They gave it to the Prince because of his support, friendship and work with us. For us it's not necessarily because he is a Prince, it was because he was so liked by the soldiers," Gurung told the Press Association.
The potential clash between the Princes' enjoying themselves as young men, and fulfilling the expectations of their roles, is most evident in the criticism that incurs when they come out of night clubs drunk.
British tabloids churn out headlines such as "Playboy Prince Cops A Feel" (The Sun), or "Warning For Princes Over Their Drunken Antics" (The Daily Express). Miguel Head, Assistant Press Secretary for Prince William and Prince Harry, heavily refutes such criticism: "There is no clash between how William and Harry act as young men and as Princes: they are who they are. They very infrequently go to nightclubs; they continue their military careers and numerous public engagements. The press writes such stories as they make good copy, but they do not reflect their lives. They receive unfair criticism," Head told ABCNews.
William and Harry are far more accessible than the older generations; at their own request, you do not curtsy when you meet them, or call them Your Royal Highness.
When Harry was doing charity work in Lasutu, Sarah Hughes, Sky News Royal Correspondent, was impressed with his laid back attitude: "At a Press Office Harry sat at the back, listening in. At the end he mingled with journalists, obviously wanting us to get to know him. The "Diana influence" is clear in William and Harry. There are always calls for the monarchy to be relevant, and the young generation is very much of our time," Hughes told ABCNews.
Each generation brings a unique interpretation of what their position of royalty amounts to. Miguel Head explained how the family reconciles itself with the modern world whilst keeping its status intact: "Every generation has to ensure that it stays in step with its own era. The beauty of the monarchial system is that it is a family that looks back through history and forward through the generations. The Royal Family is therefore an evolving organization that cannot by its own nature stand still," Head told ABCNews.