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Queen Elizabeth II's reign: 60 years of milestones

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 7:55 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this July 29, 1981 file photo, Prince Charles and his bride Diana, Princess of Wales, and his parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London after their marriage at St. Paul's Catheral. Starting Saturday, June 2, 2012, Queen Elizabeth II begins a four-day celebration of her 60 years on the throne. (AP Photo, File)

The Associated Press

LONDON — Her 60-year reign began amid gloomy post-World War II austerity, but Queen Elizabeth II has seen social and technological changes transform the world from her seat on Britain's throne. From a man setting foot on the Moon to the fall of Communism, the queen has witnessed dramatic world events, and withstood the challenges posed her sometimes troublesome family.

Key milestones in the queen's reign:

PRINCESS ELIZABETH BECOMES QUEEN

Then aged 25, Princess Elizabeth becomes queen as she is told of the death of her father, King George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952, while staying at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya. Newly disclosed home video footage, filmed by her husband Prince Philip, shows a pensive but determined young woman boarding a flight back to Britain to bury her father and assume her duties as monarch.

CORONATION, AND A STEP INTO THE TELEVISION ERA

Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in a solemn ceremony on June 2, 1953, at London's Westminster Abbey, the venue where she had married Prince Philip of Greece six years earlier. Crowds line up across London to see the queen travel to and from the ceremony, while an estimated 20 million watch on television, after the new monarch requests the event be broadcast as the first televised coronation.

THE MODERN ROYALS

As Britain shakes off the era of wartime austerity and strict social codes during the 1960s — the decade of swinging London, the Beatles and a lifestyle revolution — the queen brings change to the monarchy. In 1969, she authorizes the first television documentary about her life, which features unguarded footage of the Duke of Edinburgh cooking sausages on a barbeque and the queen chatting to then-U.S. President Richard Nixon. Critics complain it destroyed forever the mystique of royal life.

BEFORE THE FALLOUTS, A FAIRYTALE WEDDING

After a brief courtship, the queen's eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, marries Lady Diana Spencer, a bride 13 years his junior and known at the time as shy, timid and wary of the public spotlight. Their July 29, 1981, wedding at St Paul's Cathedral before 3,500 guests and a television audience of around 750 million is seen as safeguarding the future of Britain's monarchy. Diana soon blossoms into a major figure in British public life, feted for her charity work and love of fashion.

QUEEN CHATS WITH PALACE INTRUDER

Displaying the regal calm which would come to typify her reign, the queen shows little panic on July 9, 1982, when Michael Fagan, a mentally disturbed petty criminal, climbs up a drain pipe and breaks into the her bedroom. Unruffled, the queen sits the 31-year-old down at the end of her bed and chats to him for around 10 minutes until police arrive. Fagan is later sent to a mental hospital. The queen shows similar cool in 1981, when a young man aims a pistol at her as she parades on horseback and fires six blank cartridges.

THE ANNUS HORRIBILIS

The queen suffers a wounding year of family woes, as her daughter Princess Anne divorces, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separate, and so do Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah — after she is pictured in a tabloid sunbathing topless with an American financial adviser. Windsor Castle, one of the queen's favored homes, suffers extensive damage in a major fire sparked when a spotlight ignited a curtain. In a speech, the queen labels the year her "annus horribilis" — or horrible year.

DEATH OF DIANA

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