The queen's 50th anniversary: love and commitment to the people
By Edith M. Lederer Associated Press

LONDON, April, 19, 1999 -- It was a 50th wedding anniversary fit for a queen -- a sentimental trip down the aisle with her husband, a "people's banquet" with her subjects and a private ball for friends and royalty. But Queen Elizabeth II made Thursday's celebration even more meaningful with a personal tribute to Prince Philip's constancy and a pledge that the embattled monarchy will heed public opinion and adapt to the 21st century.

She acknowledged that the will of the people was vital, saying the elected government and the hereditary monarchy were complementary and "each in its different way exists only with the support and consent of the people."

Alluding to criticisms of the royal family as remote and behind the times -- particularly in the days after Princess Diana's death -- the queen noted that assessing the public's thinking is difficult, "obscured as it can be by deference, rhetoric or the conflicting currents of public opinion."

"But read it we must," she said. "I have done my best, with Prince Philip's constant love and help, to interpret it correctly through the years of our marriage and of my reign as your queen. And we shall, as a family, together try to do so in the future."

While their children's messy divorces have made headlines, the private lives of the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been virtually impervious to tabloid scrutiny.

In the past two days, however, Elizabeth and Philip have talked more about their marriage than they had in the past 50 years.

Royal watchers, for example, could not recall ever hearing the queen speak publicly of "love" in relation to Philip.

The couple, distant cousins, met as teenagers and married during a period of grim austerity following World War II. Philip had served in the Royal Navy in the Far East, but gave up his navy career to support the queen.

As he has throughout their long and resilient marriage, the 76-year-old duke walked several steps behind his wife almost the entire way down the aisle of Westminster Abbey at Thursday's service.

But the 71-year-old queen spoke with feeling about her husband at the "people's banquet" following the service, which was hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair and attended by 350 people from all walks of life.

"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," she said, as the guests burst into loud applause.

In an equally rare personal speech Wednesday, at a luncheon in the royal couple's honor, Philip had talked of the importance of "a partnership in marriage" and paid tribute to his wife's tolerance, which he said was the essential ingredient for a happy marriage.

The queen is only the second reigning monarch in British history to achieve a golden wedding anniversary. King George III and Queen Charlotte reached the milestone in 1811.

The royal contingent at Westminster Abbey on Thursday -- the biggest gathering of its kind since Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 -- included seven kings, 10 queens, a grand duke, 26 princes and 27 princesses.

Sitting alongside the queen and her husband were their four children -- Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward -- and six grandchildren.

For many, one of the most poignant moments in the service came when Diana's children -- Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 13 -- preceded their grandparents down the aisle, accompanied by Charles. The last time they were seen in the abbey was for their mother's September 6 funeral.

The princess was remembered in prayers and also in speeches by the queen and the prime minister, who instantly caught the public mood after Diana's Aug. 31 death when he called her the "people's princess."

He came up with the idea for the "people's banquet" -- with no dais, just round tables. The queen sat with, among other people, a jockey, a maintenance chief and a policewoman.

Looking radiant and smiling broadly, she and the duke took two "walkabouts" during the day to shake hands and chat animatedly with many of the thousands of well-wishers lining the streets.

Blair, 44, told the queen, "You are, simply, the best of British."

In the evening, the royal couple crowned the celebrations with a glittering private dinner and ball at Windsor Castle.

Limousine after limousine pulled up and deposited royal cousins in their finery at the entrance. There were so many foreign royals -- many distant relations of the anniversary couple -- that some were transported in a bus.

Seventy guests dined before a ball for 700.

The castle was badly damaged by fire exactly five years ago. The restoration, which the queen called "a wonderful anniversary present," was restored in time for this celebration.

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