WINDSOR • Britain celebrated the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II yesterday with tributes to a popular monarch who has steered the nation through the decline of empire and a wave of scandals to the Internet age.
The sovereign, who has been on the throne since 1953, emerged from Windsor Castle outside London dressed in a lime green outfit and matching hat to accept presents and flowers from hundreds of well-wishers.
Prime Minister David Cameron hailed her as "a rock of strength for our nation" while her son and heir Prince Charles marked the occasion by reading Shakespeare in a special broadcast on BBC radio.
Later yesterday, the monarch, who last year overtook her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria to become Britain's longest-reigning monarch, was to host a family dinner to celebrate.
She also lit a beacon, the first in a chain of a thousand that will be lit around the country and the world symbolising the length of her life and her reign.
Rarely has anyone in public life served for so long, served so brilliantly, worked so hard, and brought so many people together.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON.
In an address to the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said the Queen had been "steadfast, a rock of strength for our nation, for our Commonwealth and, on many occasions, for the whole world".
While still an active monarch, the Queen has scaled back her duties in recent years as Prince Charles and grandson Prince William with wife Kate take a more prominent role.
The royals remain popular but some analysts question what will happen when the Queen - who is in good health - reaches the end of her life.
To mark the Queen's birthday, there were two military gun salutes at London's Hyde Park and the Tower of London.
Buckingham Palace also released new official pictures of the Queen taken by US celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.
They were shot at Windsor Castle, where today she will host US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
In one photograph, the monarch is pictured with four of her beloved dogs outside the mediaeval castle west of London, and in another she is surrounded by some of the youngest members of her family, including a great-granddaughter clutching one of the Queen's trademark handbags.
Born on April 21, 1926, in Bruton Street in central London when Calvin Coolidge was US president and Josef Stalin had just taken control in the Soviet Union, the Queen shows no signs of retiring, and two surveys last week suggested the public do not want her to give up either.
An Ipsos MORI poll found 70 per cent want her to remain on the throne compared to 21 per cent who think she should abdicate or retire. A BMG survey for the London Evening Standard newspaper showed 66 per cent of Britons have a favourable view of her compared to 10 per cent with a negative view.
In his tribute, Prince Charles read an extract from William Shakespeare's Henry VIII about the future Elizabeth I.
"She shall be, to the happiness of England/An aged princess," read the text, which also described her as "a pattern to all princes living with her/And all that shall succeed".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS