Queen Mother Is Not Slowing as She Nears 90 : Monarchy: Series of events planned for her birthday. She enjoys an occasional pint of beer or gin and tonic and is mad about the horse races.


She likes fast cars, cricket and betting on horses. She always wears pearls, even when salmon fishing in Scotland, and her saintly smile is so popular that she uses a see-through umbrella.

She's Queen Mother Elizabeth, diminutive matriarch of the Royal Family, favorite granny of the nation, turning 90 this year with a four-month birthday party.

Festivities kicked off April 25 with a reception at Cardiff Castle where Viscount Tonypandy, former speaker of the House of Commons, predicted "a tremendous wave of public affection around the whole country."

Well-wishers waited five deep on the streets outside the castle, including 91-year-old Tryphena Price, who walked a mile to see the Queen Mother.

"She certainly does not look 90," enthused Price, "and I should know."

They were rewarded by a sight as familiar as Big Ben or the White Cliffs of Dover--Her Majesty the Queen Mum in trademark hat, three strings of pearls and frothy, pastel dress.

As she bestowed graceful waves and smiles on her loyal fans, it was hard to imagine that the mother of Queen Elizabeth II is as old as the century. But she shows no signs of slackening her crowded schedule of public appearances.

This year is especially busy with receptions, dinners and garden parties, and a gala performance in her honor featuring opera stars Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Placido Domingo, the Royal Ballet, Sir John Gielgud, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Dame Vera Lynn.

The 27 military units and the 300 organizations over which she presides will mass on London's Horse Guards Parade for a spectacular ceremonial tribute. Commemorative coins and stamps will feature the royal nonagenarian, along with the inevitable slew of unauthorized Queen Mother mugs and tea towels for the tourists.

On Aug. 1, she will pay a poignant visit to London's East End where she and her late husband, King George VI, brought comfort during the dark days of the blitz. During the war, the East End was a working-class neighborhood that included the London Docks on the Thames, vital to shipping at the time.

The party culminates on her birthday three days later with the Grenadier Guards marching past her London home playing "Happy Birthday."

The Queen Mother is the oldest member of the Royal Family ever to hold the title conferred on a king's widow.

She was born Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon on Aug. 4, 1900, the ninth child of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, whose family home was Glamis Castle, legendary home of Shakespeare's Macbeth, in northeast Scotland.

Her family periodically entertained King George V and Queen Mary and their children. When Elizabeth married their second son, Albert, in 1923, after twice refusing, she was the first non-royal bride in centuries to marry so close to the throne.

No one then dreamed that King Edward VIII would abdicate in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and that his younger brother, bashful, stuttering Albert, would become King George VI.

It was a reign neither Albert nor Elizabeth had sought.

"When finally it was known that her husband was to become king, and she queen, she was in bed with the flu," says Tom Corby, author of a new book about the Queen Mother. "She said to a member of the household, 'Well, we've just got to make the best of it,' and make the best of it she did."

She is credited with restoring stability to the Royal Family, badly shaken by the abdication, and transforming her shy husband into a people's king.

Harold Brooks-Baker of Burke's Peerage, a guide to the aristocracy, says he doubts that the royal family would have permitted Albert's marriage to a commoner, had it guessed he might become King George VI.

Brooks-Baker said in an interview that the Queen Mother's enduring popularity is rooted in the way she and her husband rose to the task of reigning, and made themselves so visible in London during World War II.

"They never flinched," he said.

Elizabeth rejected Winston Churchill's advice to move to Canada, and after bombs hit Buckingham Palace, the monarchs' London residence, in September, 1940, she said, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face."

George died of lung cancer in 1952, leaving her a widow at age 51, and she went into seclusion until Churchill cajoled her into returning to public life.

She still refers to her husband as "the King" and declines public appearances on the anniversaries of his birth, marriage and death. Most biographers say she believes the strain of being king hastened his death, and that she never fully forgave Wallis Simpson for her part in the abdication.

Today, her image combines angelic virtue with fun-loving earthiness.

Alone among a generally abstemious family, the Queen Mother enjoys an occasional pint of beer or gin and tonic. She's a deft hand with card tricks. She's mad about the races and breeds her own horses.

A television documentary marking her 85th birthday disclosed that Clarence House, her London home, is the only private residence in Britain known to have a "blower," the service providing betting shops with race results and running commentaries on horse races.

Thriller writer Dick Francis, who was her jockey from 1953 to 1956, said in an interview, "She puts everyone she meets at their ease straightaway and she's so knowledgeable about the things she's interested in, like racing. "

Although the Queen Mother appears to be in robust health, a 1986 leg injury stubbornly refused to heal and she was hospitalized that year with a throat spasm suffered during a fish dinner. Four years earlier, surgeons had to remove a fish bone from her throat.

Corby attributes her good health and longevity to the fact "she can't accept illness and she regards aspirin almost as a dangerous drug."

"If she gave up and sort of retired, I think that would have a bad effect on her," he said. "She just keeps going. You see her walking around on heels which are only slightly less high than ones she wore when she was a girl."

Her routine rarely varies: breakfast and newspapers in bed as a piper parades outside her window; up at 9 a.m. and on the telephone to her daughter down the street at Buckingham Palace.

It's a call relished by palace switchboard operators, who get to say: "Your Majesty? I have Her Majesty on the line, Your Majesty."

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