The Queen: from glamorous princess to the country's oldest ever monarch
At the precise moment she ascended to the throne, 60 years ago this morning, the Queen was perched in a tree, watching a rhinoceros rooting around in a watering hole in Kenya. The Duke of Edinburgh was beside her.
It was the start of a tour that was supposed to take the royal couple on to Australia and New Zealand after their African safari, but at the same time, 7.30am back in England, James MacDonald, valet to George VI, was taking the king his morning cup of tea at Sandringham and discovering that he had died during the night from a heart attack.
The coded news – "Hyde Park Corner" – flashed to London was broken to the prime minister, Winston Churchill, still in bed in Downing Street, who promptly burst into tears.
Word that her father had died and that she was Queen was gently passed to the 25-year-old princess by her husband.
Nine days later, back at St George's Chapel, Windsor, three queens said to be veiled "like Muslim women", attended the king's burial: the young Queen, her mother, George VI's widow, and his elderly mother, Queen Mary, widow of George V.
You have to be nearly in your 70s now to remember when the Queen was not head of state here and in 16 other countries, from New Zealand to Jamaica.
Elizabeth II, once a glamorous young woman as iconic as – and just six weeks older than – Marilyn Monroe, was seen as a symbol of a supposedly new Elizabethan age in a Britain emerging from the privations of the second world war and the austerity that followed. Now she is the country's oldest monarch and the second-longest reigning sovereign in British history.
She has met nearly a quarter of all the American presidents who have ever lived, and a fifth of all Britain's prime ministers have served during her reign – Churchill, the oldest, born in 1874, Cameron, the latest, not born until the Queen had already been on the throne for 14 years. She has also met most of the world's leaders of the past six decades and many of its most stellar personalities, and never said anything remotely controversial to any of them.
It is almost impossible now to imagine the Britain of 60 years ago if you weren't alive then. It was an age when sweets were still rationed, black and white televisions had just one channel and if people wanted to use the telephone they usually had to go out and find a public phone box.
When the BBC broadcast the news of the king's death on the wireless on the morning of 6 February 1952, many listeners burst into tears and drivers stopped their cars in the streets to get out and stand bare-headed in respect. In 1964 an opinion poll found that 30% of the population still believed that the Queen had been chosen by God.
The reverence has mostly gone, aided by a media alternately creeping and carping and by a royal soap opera that has seen the supposedly fairytale marriages of three of the Queen's four children end in divorce. The Prince of Wales, heir now as he was as a four-year-old 60 years ago, continues to wait his turn and has produced a personable heir (and a spare) to carry on the family line.
Through it all, the Queen has done what monarchs do: dutifully showing herself to the people, touring the country, visiting her subjects in good times and bad. Unasked, unanswered, is how much longer duty will call.