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The Queen at 90: A countrywoman at home with the family, horses and her ‘rock’ Philip


As the country prepares to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen — the first reigning monarch to reach the milestone

Dynasty: the Queen with Prince Charles, Prince George, Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at Trooping the Colour last year Rex

She once confided that, had she not become Queen, she would have liked simply to be a lady living in the country with lots of horses and dogs.

Indeed, whenever her busy schedule allows, the Queen is out in Windsor Great Park on her favourite black fell pony, Carltonlima Emma, with head groom Terry Pendry by her side.

It is her private escape from a demanding public world.

She starts her day at about 8.30am, sipping a cup of Darjeeling tea, eating her toast and marmalade —  and surveying the pages of the Racing Post.

Her eyes light up when horses are mentioned. Her passion for them has not dimmed over the years, whether it be riding or racing.

It is perhaps why she loves spending the weekends at Windsor Castle. A royal fortress for more than 900 years, it is a sanctuary.

It is where she will greet the crowds on her birthday on Thursday, and where she will receive President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle for lunch on Friday.

The Queen’s home life is surprisingly low-profile, revolving around her family and her faith. She may be a monarch but she is also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and friend to a very select group.

At the heart of her private life is her unshakeable marriage to Prince Philip, which at 68 years is the longest of any sovereign and consort. It has been the bedrock of every aspect of her life, along with her Christian faith.

Elizabeth was only eight when she first met Prince Philip, her third cousin, at her uncle the Duke of Kent’s wedding in 1934. Five years later she met Philip again, this time on a visit to Dartmouth Naval College on the royal yacht.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were assigned the dashing naval cadet Philip Mountbatten — the nephew of Lord “Dickie” Mountbatten — to look after them. The impressionable Elizabeth was smitten.

They wrote to each other while Philip, five years Elizabeth’s senior, was serving in the Royal Navy during the war. He did not return home until January 1946, when their courtship began in earnest.

Buckingham Palace announced their engagement in July 1947 and they married on November 20 the same year.

All these years later, she still loves and adores him. At home, she lets Philip, 94, wear the trousers — running the estates, making the big decisions. He is, perhaps, the only person who would dare tell her what to do.

She has also learned to live with his outbursts. When he is ranting about not being able to get the television to work in a hotel suite, she merely shrugs her shoulders.

Neither shows their emotions openly. But for their Golden Wedding, the Queen put her feelings on record, saying: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”

As a mother, her life has been more difficult. Her four children have been through three divorces and two re-marriages, and the Queen has had to steer a careful path with family relations.

She is an intensely private person and to see her children’s marital differences making newspaper headlines was painful. She rarely intervened, instead leaving Philip to mediate. She stepped in only with Charles and Diana, when the situation was damaging the institution of which she is custodian.

She is an important figure in the lives of all her grandchildren too, from Peter Phillips, the eldest at 38, to the youngest, eight-year-old James, Viscount Severn.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who are among her five great grandchildren, see plenty of her, and are expected to join her on the balcony for Trooping the Colour this year. As George’s mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, revealed, he calls his great-grandmother “Gan Gan”.

Perhaps none of them depend on her wisdom as much as Prince William, whose marriage to Kate has emphasised that, after the dramas of the Nineties, the royal family at last seems to be in calmer waters privately.

William has described the Queen as a “dedicated guiding force” to the royal family, and she has clearly helped him in his preparations for the top job.  She is always keen for him to ask questions — and he says there is nothing that she will not already know, nor have a better opinion about.

The Queen has earned the respect of the people of the United Kingdom and of the Commonwealth.

And, in this birthday year, they will be out in their thousands to pay tribute to her dedication. She will acknowledge them with her public face.

But that smile will only truly light up when she is at the dining table at Windsor, surrounded by her close family — who will all raise a glass to her.