Queen Elizabeth II, 90, hailed as Britain’s ‘rock of strength’

By Justin Tallis with Katherine Haddon, AFP

WINDSOR, England — Britain celebrated the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday with tributes to a popular monarch who has steered it through the decline of empire and a wave of scandals to the internet age. The sovereign, on the throne since 1953, emerged from Windsor Castle dressed in a lime green outfit and matching hat to accept presents and flowers from hundreds of well-wishers. Prime Minister David Cameron praised her achievements in a special “humble address” to parliament while her son and heir Prince Charles read from William Shakespeare in a special broadcast on BBC radio. Later, the monarch, who last year overtook her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria to become Britain’s longest-serving monarch, will host a family dinner to celebrate. She will also light a beacon, the first in a chain of a thousand around the country and the world, symbolizing the length of her life and her reign. In a speech to the House of Commons, Cameron said she had been “steadfast, a rock of strength” adding that Britain was “uniquely blessed” to have her. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a rare republican in public life, added that, whatever “different views” people have about the monarchy, most believe the Queen “has overwhelming support.” While still active, the queen has scaled back her duties in recent years as Charles and grandson Prince William plus wife Kate take a more prominent role. The royals remain popular but some question what will happen when the Queen — who is in good health, enjoying regular rides on her favorite pony and walking her corgis — reaches the end of her life. Gun Salutes and Birthday Cake

In an editorial, The Times newspaper praised her as “a symbol of continuity and the best embodiment we have of a complex national identity.” But it warned the monarchy “will not long retain its popularity” if Charles, who often writes to ministers about issues close to his heart like the environment, is seen to breach constitutional convention by interfering in politics as king. To mark the royal birthday, there were two military gun salutes at London’s Hyde Park and the Tower of London and crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace.

Later, parliament will be lit up in the red, white and blue of the British flag.