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At 80, Elizabeth Is Britain's Unrivaled Queen of Hearts

Asked to name Elizabeth's most important contribution as queen, Lacey responded: "Survival. Survival for herself and survival for the monarchy. All royal families are about survival and keeping their fingers on the pulse of the people. That's what the queen, in her own quiet way, has developed to a fine art."

Elizabeth has long been remarkably attuned to British public sentiment, with one notable exception: her response to the death of Princess Diana in 1997. She was harshly criticized for secluding herself in her castle in Balmoral, Scotland, in the days after Diana died, appearing unmoved even as flowers piled up like a snowbank at Buckingham Palace, as well as at Kensington Palace, the princess's home.

Persuaded by advisers that the public was dismayed, Elizabeth returned to London the day before Diana's funeral. In a live address to the nation, she said she "admired and respected" Diana.

Then, in a rare gesture of humility, the queen bowed her head when Diana's casket passed Buckingham Palace on its way to the funeral. Public sentiment shifted back in her favor.

"It was the one occasion in her reign when she misunderstood public feeling," Bogdanor said.

Although she never gives interviews, her royal Web site this week listed "80 facts about the Queen," including the information that she has sat for 11 sculptures and 139 official portraits (including one hologram) and that her message of congratulations to the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 was microfilmed and deposited on the moon in a metal container. The Web site also notes that the queen technically owns all sturgeons, whales and dolphins in British waters, which are known collectively as the "Fishes Royal."

Asked earlier this week what she wanted for her birthday, she paused and, in her way of never saying anything anyone could quibble with, replied, "A nice sunny day."

She got overcast skies instead, but a very bright welcome from well-wishers. In Windsor, just southwest of London, Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, walked for 45 minutes on Friday among crowds pressing to get close.

"She has been so strong through so much adversity," said Rebecca Scammell, 39, who added: "I'd like to have her around for a large sherry and have her loosen up a bit. I bet she'd be very interesting."

Special correspondent Alexandra Topping contributed to this report.


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