LONDON • Britain yesterday celebrated Queen Elizabeth II becoming the country's longest-serving monarch with a flotilla down the River Thames, a gun salute and the peal of Westminster Abbey's bells.
The Queen herself opened a railway line in Scotland yesterday and hosted a private dinner at Balmoral Castle to mark the day she overtakes her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria's record.
Queen Elizabeth II, in a brief comment on the historic moment, said yesterday that she never aspired to overtake Queen Victoria to become Britain's longest-reigning monarch.
As she inaugurated the new railway, she said that many people "have also kindly noted another significance attaching to today, although it is not one to which I have ever aspired".
Said the 89-year-old monarch: "Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception. But I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages."
A cheering crowd and an honour guard of royal archers had greeted the Queen on her arrival at Edinburgh train station, where she boarded a steam train for a journey along the new Borders Railway. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also congratulated the Queen.
Dressed in a turquoise coat and hat and clutching a black handbag - one of her famously colourful outfits - the Queen wore a diamond-studded brooch that belonged to Queen Victoria, in homage to her ancestor.
Prime Minister David Cameron led official tributes in Parliament, calling her reign a "golden thread running through three post-war generations".
"She is our Queen and we could not be more proud of her," he said. "She has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency and long may she continue to do so."
It is not known where exactly she will be at 5.30pm local time, or 12.30am Singapore time today, the best estimate from royal officials for the time at which the monarch reaches the historical milestone.
At that moment, the Queen will have surpassed the 63 years, 7 months, 2 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes that Queen Victoria spent on the throne.
Royal officials have stressed that the Queen wanted to keep the date low-key as the calculation of the length of her reign is based on the moment it began with the death of her father, King George VI, on Feb 6, 1952.
The official photograph, taken by Ms Mary McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Paul McCartney, shows the Queen sitting at her desk working through a red box of state papers.
The Queen presided over a gradual decline in Britain's global influence as many of its former colonies became independent.
She has also steered the monarchy through some of its rockiest recent patches, including the collapse of three of her children's marriages and public anger at her reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997, which some saw as cold.
The royal family has since tried to present itself as more in touch with the public.
Outside Buckingham Palace yesterday, well-wishers from around the world gathered to celebrate.
Town crier Tony Appleton later read the crowd a message before leading them in a chorus of "three cheers for the Queen".
Historian Jane Ridley said it is "remarkable" that the Queen has been able to maintain the monarchy's popularity.
"She has done it very cleverly. She has never given an interview. She is constantly seen."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS