Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 90th birthday on Thursday, marking a milestone that drew thousands of well-wishers to the streets near Windsor Castle in honor of Britain’s longest serving monarch.
While the queen usually doesn’t make a fuss about her birthday, preferring to spend the day privately, she started the day by greeting the crowds in the town, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip. At midday a gun salute took place to mark the occasion.
Later she is expected to unveil a plaque marking a self-guided walking trail near the castle, about 20 miles west of London. In the evening, she will light the first of more than a thousand torches and bonfires that will burn across the country in honor of the monarch who has ruled Britain for 64 years.
British newspapers heralded the day with headlines such as “Happy birthday great granny” and “How the queen saved the royal family.”
Prince William, her grandson and second-in-line to the throne, said last week in a speech in India that the queen is an energetic and guiding force for the family.
“She may be my grandmother, but she is also very much the boss,” Prince William said.
While Thursday marks her actual birthday, lavish celebrations commemorating the occasion won’t take place until June 10-12, when her birthday is officially celebrated.
In June, she and other members of the royal family will attend a birthday procession on Horse Guards Parade, the open square at the foot of St. James’s Park. The next day, she will attend a party on the Mall with 10,000 guests, and pubs across the country will stay open late over the weekend to celebrate the occasion.
The country has long speculated about when the queen will step down, though she has given no indication she will do so.
Born in London in 1926, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne when she was 25, following the death of her father, King George VI, who failed to recover from an operation for lung cancer.
Her reign has spanned 12 British prime ministers, all of whom she met regularly. Her time on the throne has been marked by difficult moments, including the breakdown of the marriage of her eldest son, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana.
The current prime minister, David Cameron, said in Parliament that the queen had been a “rock of strength” for the nation.
“The whole country will want to wish the queen a happy birthday today,” Mr. Cameron said.
She remains very popular in the U.K. where she is admired for her dedication to her royal duties. She has traveled overseas more often than any other British monarch, though in recent years she has passed on some travel and other responsibilities to Prince Charles, who is next-in-line to the throne, and Prince William. At home, she frequently hosts official events, including attending ceremonies and receptions.
The celebrations commemorating her birthday will continue on Friday, when she and Prince Philip are to host a lunch with President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at Windsor Castle. Later in the day, Mr. Obama, after meeting with Mr. Cameron in London, is expected in a meeting with reporters to make the case for Britain’s continued membership in the European Union ahead of a June referendum on the issue.
Mr. Cameron is leading the campaign for continued U.K. membership in the bloc, while other senior politicians—including members of his own government—support Britain’s exit.
The queen, who by tradition is expected to remain impartial on political affairs, hasn’t weighed in publicly on the subject. However, during a banquet in Berlin last year, she warned against division in Europe and said the U.K. and its partners must guard against it.
Write to Jenny Gross at email@example.com