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A golden celebration for Queen, Prince Philip

Blair: 'You are simply the best of British'

November 20, 1997
Web posted at: 9:58 p.m. EST (0258 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary Thursday with a series of get-togethers in which royalty rubbed elbows with the common folk.

The final event was a glittering evening ball for 700 people at Windsor Castle, newly restored after a devastating 1992 fire.

On November 20, 1947, Princess Elizabeth, the oldest daughter of King George VI, wed Philip, a distant cousin of the Greek royal house, inside Westminster Abbey. Thursday, the couple returned to the abbey for a thanksgiving service that brought together the largest gathering of royalty since Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.

Ten other British couples who shared that same wedding day 50 years ago were invited to participate in the service with the royal couple.

On hand to witness the service were seven kings, 10 queens, a grand duke, 26 princes and 27 princesses. Many were from monarchies, such as Bulgaria and Romania, long since overthrown.

Young princes walk abbey aisle

This was the first royal event at Westminster Abbey since the funeral of Princess Diana in September. In a poignant moment, her young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, walked down the long aisle of the cathedral -- down which their mother's coffin had been carried on the shoulders of soldiers -- to take their places for the service.

They were accompanied by their father, Prince Charles, the queen's oldest son.

At a "people's banquet" afterward, hosted by Prime Minster Tony Blair, the queen offered thanks "to all those in Britain and around the world who have welcomed us and sustained us and our family, in the good times and the bad, so unstintingly, over many years."

Blair, the tenth prime minister to serve during the queen's long reign, invited 350 people from all walks of life to dine with the monarch. He paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth, calling her "unstuffy, unfussy and unfazed by anything."

"You are our queen. We respect and cherish you. You are simply the best of British," Blair said.

Elizabeth only second monarch to reach 50-year mark

Queen Elizabeth is just the second British monarch to ever achieve 50 years of marriage. The only other to do so was King George III, who, with Queen Charlotte, reached that milestone in 1811.

The staying power of the queen's marriage stands in sharp contrast to that of other members of the royal family. Her sister and three of her four children have all been divorced.

The queen Thursday paid tribute to her husband, praising his "constant love and support."

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments. But he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years. And I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know," she said, as the guests at the banquet burst into loud applause.

Queen: Royals 'must' read public opinion

But on this historic occasion, the queen also made reference to the vow by the royal family, after Diana's death, that it would heed calls to modernize and be more in touch with the people.

The queen noted that assessing the public's thinking is difficult, "obscured as it can be by deference, rhetoric or the conflicting currents of public opinion."

"But read it we must. I have done my best, with Prince Philip's constant love and help, to interpret it correctly through the years of our marriage and of my reign as your queen. And we shall, as a family, together try to do so in the future."

The queen also looked back on what she called a "remarkable" 50 years for Britain.

"Think of what we would have missed if we had never heard the Beatles, or seen Margot Fonteyn dance; never have watched television, used a mobile phone or surfed the Net -- or, to be honest, listened to other people talking about surfing the Net," she said at the banquet, drawing laughter.

Turning to the future, the queen said, "I believe that there is an air of confidence in this country of ours just now."

"I pray that we -- people, government and royal family, for we are one -- can prove it to be justified and that Britain will enter the next millennium glad, confident and a truly United Kingdom."

Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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