Explore the reign by decade
Her Majesty the Queen's Platinum Jubilee
Long to reign over us:
70 years of Her Majesty
In the 70 years since her reign began, the world has changed beyond recognition. But there has always been one constant: Her Majesty The Queen. Here, Mary Killen looks back at her time on the throne, from the post-war years of the
1950s to the digital era of today. What happened to the Royal Family in
every decade? And how did society change?
The Queen ascends to the throne, aged 25, in 1952, on the death of her father, George VI.
(The Coronation takes place in June the following year.) Despite her loss, so begins one of the happiest periods of the Queen’s life as she is married to Prince Philip, the leading heartthrob of Europe, now at the peak of his physical and supportive prowess. She has Charles, born 1948, and Anne, born 1950, but of course there was no stress managing them as nannies are on hand and Prince Philip shoulders many of the duties. When Lord Altrincham attacks the Queen as ‘an outdated emblem of privilege’ in 1957, crowds stand 20 deep to show their support as the royal
train heads from London to Balmoral that summer. Princess Margaret, however, is a worry throughout the Fifties as she has no suitable romantic partner. Her set is the most fashionable in society. Leading names include Lord Ogilvy, the Earl of Westmorland, the Hon Peter Ward, Colin Tennant. Other glamorous figures in the news are the perennial Lady Diana Cooper and the Duchess of Argyll, Ian Fleming, who marries Viscountess Rothermere in Jamaica, and Barbara Hutton, the American heiress.
The Queen and
Prince Philip embark
on a six-month Commonwealth Tour,
with stops including Bermuda, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia
Rationing and Roulette Wheels: The Feel of the 1950s
The Conservatives are in office all through the 1950s although Churchill steps down in 1955 at the age of 79. There is still deference and respect for those of aristocratic rank but money now creates fluidity and property developers and oil magnates like Charles Clore and Paul Getty emerge as leading socialites. Lady Docker buys a succession of Daimlers, one covered in gold plate, another with zebra-skin upholstery. ‘Mink is too hot to sit on,’ she explains.
Bohemians are emerging as a new social force. The Chelsea Arts Club balls take place every year at the Royal Albert Hall and Colditz veteran and ‘leader of the Chelsea Set’ Michael Alexander organises a more select party for 200 on the Circle Line of the Tube. Only a tiny percentage travel internationally. Food is fairly disgusting unless you are eating oysters, lobster or foie gras at Maxim’s or the Savoy. There are balls at Londonderry House and Mereworth Castle and the Beistegui Ball at the Palazzo Labia in Venice, still considered the greatest party in history. Mass machine production of clothing becomes possible.
The Queen gives birth to Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964. Princess Margaret marries Antony Armstrong-Jones and the couple honeymoon on the Royal Yacht Britannia and
pay their first visit to Mustique. Prince Charles goes to board at Gordonstoun in 1962 and to Trinity College Cambridge in 1967. Princess Anne goes to Benenden in 1963 and meets Mark Phillips, when aged 18 in 1968. Charles undergoes his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969.
Prince Philip buys an Alvis convertible which can easily hit 100mph. He pays £3,110. Prince William of Gloucester celebrates his 21st with 400 friends at St James’s Palace. He urges guests not to come in evening dress as he wants it to be ‘much more informal than that.’ The Queen gives up the royal train with its children’s carriage for Charles and Anne. In future four royal coaches will be hitched onto an ordinary train. The Queen now enters the most socially disruptive decade in history as pop stars, fashion designers, photographers, decorators and actors become the ‘new aristocracy’. A fly on the wall documentary showing the Royal Family as ordinary people is made but, mindful of the comments of Walter Bagehot – ‘we must not let in daylight on magic’ – it is not screened for a
The Queen’s younger
sister, Princess Margaret, marries Antony Armstrong-Jones
Satire in Print and Scandal in Politics: The Style of the 1960s
The Generation Gap begins. Debs become unimportant because the Young want to kick away stuffiness, rules and class expectations. Many of them take mind-bending drugs. It all begins with the long-haired Beatles when hordes of fans scream manically en masse at the London Palladium and Beatlemania takes off. All fashionable young men grow their hair long.
Everywhere the Old Guard is under threat. The colossal Eaton Hall, seat of the Duke of Westminster, is pulled down due to dry rot. In 1962 Lord Londonderry gives the last party for 300 friends at Londonderry House, Park Lane, which is soon to be demolished and bought by the property developer Isaac Klug for £500,000. Mereworth Castle has to be sold by Mr Michael Tree as he can no longer afford the expense of upkeep. Those who can afford the upkeep of statelies are own-goaling in the Clermont Club at 44 Berkeley Square where a three-month-old tiger belonging to John Aspinall is seen roaming among the gamblers one evening. Annabel’s nightclub opens in the basement of the Clermont.
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
The Queen’s first child to marry, Princess Anne, ‘dolled up for the first time ever’, looks utterly stunning (make-up by Barbara Daly) as she marries skilled horseman Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in 1973. A year later the princess survives an attempted kidnap in the Mall, her detective notes how calm she remains during the incident. Prince Charles, now the world’s most eligible bachelor, and quietly still in love with Camilla Parker Bowles, is seen with Sabrina Guinness among other romantic interests. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother becomes the 160th Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at Dover.
The Queen Mother lives at Royal Lodge, where she sometimes entertains the Eton beagles and during the week at Clarence House. The moderate drinking queen sometimes joins her mother and sister at Kensington Palace for lunch at which drinks are served both before and during the ‘meal’. Sometimes the incredibly creative (and highly sexed) Lord Snowdon is present. The Royals in
general adore him – though he fights with Margaret; the couple are divorced in this decade and Margaret meets Roddy Llewellyn, who adores her.
Prince Philip is still helping the Queen to serve. In his 70 years as consort he will carry out 22,219 solo public appearances and 637 overseas visits. Andrew and Edward reach adolescence.
Horses and dog-walking keep the Queen fit. The Royal Family are not that popular in this decade but HM rises above the Sex Pistols (‘God Save the Queen / She ain’t no ’uman being’) and cynics
and royalists alike celebrate her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977 with the warmest affection.
She makes six official tours of Canada in the 1970s and travels for the first time aboard Concorde
as she flies back from Barbados in 1977.
Princess Anne marries Captain Mark Phillips
Society Snappers and Cinematic Blockbusters:
The 1970s Scene
Many of the 1960s beautiful people are nursing their psychedelic hangovers and have retreated to the country to grow vegetables. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison all die aged 27. Even the Beatles break up. Photographers are ‘where it’s at’ – Bailey, Donovan and Snowdon. Cinema sees the birth of the blockbuster: Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978).
Freddie Laker revolutionises transatlantic air travel for the masses, launching cheap flights to New York from Gatwick in 1977 with his Skytrain service. Clothing is drab, maxi skirts and synthetics
and slob or punk wear for men. Junior grandees are targeted by a charismatic Chelsea drug dealer and many of them end up in Broadway Lodge, the rehab centre of the era. Still-happening people like Emma Soames, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, dance at the Embassy night club four nights a week. Edward Heath is Tory leader till 1974 but is replaced by Labour leaders Wilson
and Callaghan who remain in office until the end of the dismal decade – Margaret Thatcher will lead the Conservatives to victory in May 1979.
The Queen celebrates her Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years since her accession to the throne
The Queen’s eldest son
and heir, Prince Charles,
is officially invested as Prince of Wales
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
The Queen makes the first ever visit by a British sovereign to China – just over a decade before Hong Kong is returned to Chinese rule. With Prince Philip, who is deeply interested in all forms of religion, she also makes the first ever state visit by a British monarch to the Vatican. The Queen asks Pope John Paul back to Buckingham Palace two years later.
Prince Charles’s wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 is viewed by 750 million worldwide. Prince Andrew marries ‘Fergie’ in 1986. Zara Phillips, Princes William and Harry and Princess Beatrice are born. President Ronald Reagan becomes the first US President to stay overnight at Windsor Castle and he, aged 71, and the Queen, now 56, ride together in Windsor Great Park. The Queen takes a liking to Reagan and grants him an honorary knighthood. Michael Fagan climbs a drainpipe and bursts into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace. She remains calm and speaks to him kindly. In line-ups Princess Di always looks taller and more striking than the other royals.
Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer at
St Paul’s Cathedral in
what is deemed a
Sloane Rangers and City Boys: The Excess of the 1980s
John Lennon’s death forces the Sixties generation to grow up overnight. Seediness, flakiness, drug-induced paranoia and rule-breaking suddenly lose their appeal and are replaced by a quiet craving for the return of stability. The Royal Wedding of 1981 changes the national mood.
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
The Queen has a horrid decade. Part of Windsor Castle catches fire in 1992, Princess Anne and
Mark Phillips get divorced the same year and Prince Charles and Diana separate.
Tampongate unfolds in 1993. Andrew and Fergie divorce in 1996 as do Charles and Diana. Then
the death of Diana in Paris in 1997. Grief sweeps the country and the globe. For a few days the system of monarchy seems threatened. But, looking on the bright side, the Queen has her faith, she has her duty to drive her and she knows her worth. Meanwhile ‘my strength and my stay’, Prince Philip, now in his 70s, still has his physical prowess. His secret? He does the Canadian Air Force
5BX exercises every morning: five basic exercises to boost a man’s aerobic fitness and improve flexibility which take only 11 minutes to perform. Another good thing – in 1992 the Queen meets Angela Kelly, then housekeeper to Sir Christopher Mallaby at the British Embassy in Berlin. The Queen is enchanted when Angela answers her question ‘Who are the next guests coming to stay in the embassy?’ with ‘I’m sorry Your Majesty. I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act, I’m afraid I can’t tell you.’ Soon afterwards Angela Kelly is invited to join the Queen’s household as an assistant dresser. Now chief dresser, the monarch enjoys Angela’s company so much she asked for her to join her bubble over lockdown. And another character who will turn out to enhance her life is to come when Prince Edward marries Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrate their golden wedding anniversary with a special garden party at Buckingham Palace for others celebrating 50 years of marriage. In a classic own-goal by politicians, the Royal Yacht Britannia, on board which billions of business deals favouring the UK were struck, is decommissioned in 1997.
Diana, Princess of Wales dies in August
The Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, marries Sophie Rhys-Jones at St George’s Chapel, Windsor
Young British Artists and the World Wide Web: The New-Feel 1990s
Bands and DJs – some of whom have become like social leaders e.g. Fatboy Slim, magnetise a generation of club-goers to Manchester or ‘Madchester’. Many of these take ecstasy in the mistaken belief there will be no long term consequences. Oasis, Blur and Pulp are fashionable. There is plenty of money around, but in 1990 Mrs T is ousted and replaced by John Major and in 1997 the Tories are ousted by New Labour after 18 years in power.
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
The Queen and Prince Philip celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
The Queen and Prince Philip, both now in their 70s, carry on serving her people, making three extended tours to Australia as well as visiting Jamaica, Canada, Nigeria, Uganda, Singapore, Malta, Bermuda and Trinidad and Tobago.
On her 80th birthday she gives a party for 2,000 children at Buckingham Palace to celebrate ‘the magic of books’. For The Party at the Palace she allows Brian May onto the roof of Buckingham Palace to play God Save the Queen on his guitar. At a party in Downing Street she dines with Prime Minister Tony Blair and former PMs John Major, Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan and Edward Heath. The press becomes increasingly intrusive but the Queen rises above their goading and declines to comment on Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, who has been found with hundreds of Diana’s possessions; Prince Harry’s appearance at a fancy dress party in Nazi uniform; or whether she believes Prince William should propose to ‘Waity Katie’.
‘Grief is the price we pay for love’ says HM as she sheds her first public tear at a service for the victims of 9/11. Her racing manager, Lord Carnarvon, had also died on 11 September 2001. Worse is to come. Princess Margaret dies in 2002, followed by the Queen Mother six weeks later. And she must also host a state visit to Britain by both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Meanwhile Charles and Camilla marry in 2005 and make their first official visit to the United States as well as touring Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Prince William leaves St Andrews and gets engaged to Kate Middleton in 2010, and Prince Harry passes out as a commissioned officer at Sandhurst. His tour of Iraq with the Blues and Royals has to be called off after threats that the regiment will be targeted. Mohamed Al Fayed appears in court to claim that the Duke of Edinburgh conspired to kill Princess Diana. The judge declares there is not a shred of evidence to support this.
Swine Flu and Social Media: The Currents of the 2000s
Tension and uncertainty. The Iraq War (2 million people walked through London to protest but Tony went ahead anyway) and the death of scientist Dr David Kelly are the main factors. Then there is Foot and Mouth, Norovirus, swine flu, terrible floods, and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which causes air space to shut.
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
The Queen marks 50 years on the throne, with her Golden Jubilee celebrations including tours both within the UK and across the Commonwealth
Prince Charles marries for the second time, to Camilla Parker Bowles
The Queen, in 2015, becomes the longest-reigning monarch in British history. She visits the Republic of Ireland, the first visit by a reigning monarch since 1911. The visit goes well and,
in her Christmas message that year, she remarks that ‘relationships that years ago were once so strained have, through sorrow and forgiveness, blossomed into long-term friendship.’
With Prince Philip, now 90 and soon to enter hospital for a blocked coronary artery, she visits Australia and sees the effect of recent natural disasters.
For her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 the Queen hosts an informal lunch at Windsor for 20 current or former monarchs from other countries and beacons in her honour are lit across the Commonwealth. A flotilla of 1,000 boats goes down the Thames in unpleasant weather and afterwards Prince Philip is hospitalised with a bladder infection. The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London draw millions and, says the Queen, after walking through, ‘the only possible reaction to walking among them was silence’. As screens continue to hypnotise her subjects she warns, in another Christmas message, about distractions, and adds that it is easy to forget to pause and take stock and that ‘many have found the quiet practice of personal reflection can be surprisingly rewarding.’ Prince Philip has a car crash, aged 97, and climbs out of the overturned car unharmed.
Prince William and Kate Middleton marry and have three children. Prince Harry launches the successful and morale-boosting Invictus Games, paralympics for wounded soldiers. Harry, who has broken up with Cressida Bonas, meets and marries Meghan Markle and she is welcomed whole-heartedly into the Royal Family. It seems a marvellous step forward.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is named in a lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein.
The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday, and poses
for her first official portrait alongside her three heirs: Prince Charles, the Duke
of Cambridge, and a two-year-old Prince George
The marriage of the
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge takes place at Westminster Abbey
The marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex takes place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor
Same-Sex Marriages and Syria: The Themes of the 2010s
A sense of unreality as so many certainties are overturned in one decade. Climate change produces freak weather events throughout the globe and in this country. Donald Trump becomes US President and we vote for Brexit. Division reigns even in family households. At least the Scots vote against Independence and MPs vote against joining in the Syrian War. Women Bishops are to be ordained, same-sex marriages become legal and Stephen
Fry and his partner Elliott Spencer get married. Alan Turing is given a posthumous royal pardon. The last analogue TV signal is turned off and the last manual typewriter is produced at a factory in North Wales. We learn that the UK population went up by 470,000 between 2009-2010. Jimmy Savile is unmasked, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford go to jail. Mrs Thatcher dies and some people give street parties to celebrate. London, under Boris Johnson as Mayor, hosts the 2012 Olympics.
A London house sells in 2013 for £250 million, 700 times the average house price then of £370,000. David Cameron is in office and Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour Party. But in 2019, following Theresa May
doing all the groundwork for Brexit, she is voted out and Boris comes in.
He storms to victory with a huge majority following a general election.
BACK TO DECADE TIMELINE
Covid puts the kibosh on anything much happening to anyone during 2020 and 2021. Unfortunately, however, Prince Harry and Meghan decide that they will walk away from the Royal Family and set up home in America. The Queen’s only comment on the couple’s Oprah accusations is that ‘recollections may vary’. From Prince Philip’s death to Barbados being the first country to remove the British
monarch as head of state for 30 years, following so-called ‘debt diplomacy’ with the Chinese, there’s
little plain sailing for the royals. In February 2022, however, the Queen marks the 70th anniversary
of her accession, celebrating with Platinum Jubilee festivities that summer.
The Queen becomes
the first monarch in
British history to reach
a Platinum Jubilee
The Queen makes a historic special address to mark the coronavirus pandemic
Prince Philip dies at Windsor Castle, aged 99
BACK TO TOP
Mrs Thatcher holds office for the decade. She is said to have ‘nanny appeal’. (The strict Mrs T has many public schoolboys but no other women in her Cabinet.) The Falklands War of 1982 boosts national morale but Mrs Thatcher’s monetarist economic policies are not popular with the miners or the steelworkers of Consett, 4,500 of whom lose their jobs. She does win votes though by granting those in council houses the Right
to Buy. The Big Bang means the City, where the code of the Gentleman has ruled since 1698 – ‘my word is my bond’ – was no longer in operation and ‘funny money’ begins to be made by all sorts of non-gentlemen. A new breed called the Yuppies emerges. They drive Porsches, wear Rolex watches and drink magnums of champagne. Mikhail Gorbachev, heavily influenced by Chernobyl and the need for openness and transparency, or Glasnost, is pivotal in ending the Cold War. The Berlin Wall falls in 1989. Meanwhile Live Aid (Feed the World) in 1985 makes giving ‘cool’.
Toffs have been out of fashion since the Sixties, but under Princess Di they are no longer seen as red-faced, League-of-Gentlemen-style, blood-sports-obsessive, blithering idiots. Now, we note, they are often tall and beautiful with interesting historic backstories and a sense of duty. Featuring Diana on the cover, the Number One bestseller in all categories for 1982 is The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook by Peter York. Britons become secretly interested in dovecotes, Barbours, labradors, lawn meets, follies, polo, hunting, debs’ delights, after-dinner games, house parties, land agents, and food throwing. They are not even ill disposed towards the Bullingdon. Punk and post-hippy are truly over and Princess Diana becomes an unofficial ambassador for the British
The end of the public schoolboy, with his useful connections and good manners but not much else, seems nigh. Breeding is trumped by competence
as the new ascendancy is made up of those who understand how to work
Competence is not required in the arts, however, and a new era of ugliness is ushered in with the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy showcasing Young British Artists (who became known as 'the YBAs') like Damien Hirst and the Chapman Brothers. Happening people include the Soho House set and the Primrose Hill set, and journalists have a moment of power. But soon they will lose their prized perches as the internet leeches all the advertising content from print publications.
At the end of this transition decade, most people will be hypnotised by their mobile devices, view on-demand DVDs (1997) and the World Wide Web, created in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The European Union is created when the Maastricht Treaty is signed in 1992 and the Channel Tunnel opens two years later. The Good Friday agreement is signed in 1998.
Most Britons, however, are still suffering post war austerity. Rationing
does not end till 1954. Punitive new rates of taxation come in in 1956.
Finally in 1959 Princess Margaret becomes engaged to the bohemian photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. Other grandees to marry
‘commoners’ during the Fifties included Prince Rainier of Monaco to
Grace Kelly, Lady Caroline Blackwood to Lucian Freud, Lady Annabel
Vane-Tempest-Stewart to Mark Birley.
James Goldsmith, 20, marries 17-year-old Maria Isabel Patino and the Marquess of Londonderry, 20, marries 17-year-old Nicolette Harrison.
John Aspinall began to emerge as a menace; losses at his addictive gambling clubs led to the downfall of many of our stately homes.
That Was The Week That Was, a late night television programme compered by David Frost, begins to satirise the ‘Establishment’ and under its 26-year-old editor, Richard Ingrams, the satirical magazine Private Eye also begins to undermine. The Profumo/Christine Keeler scandal begins with their meeting at Cliveden after which John Profumo resigns, admitting lying to Parliament. Expense account entertaining is curtailed and the Selective Employment tax sends much of the Old Guard into tax exile. The railway station at Badminton is closed in 1968. John Lennon sends back his MBE. Marianne Faithfull, girlfriend of Mick Jagger, turns up five minutes after Princess Margaret to a new ballet at Covent Garden. Homosexual acts between consenting adults are decriminalised. Labour gets in in 1964 with a slim majority and again in 1966 with the majority increased to 97.
Around 80 per cent of us now have the internet and the tyranny of choice, to say nothing of the social anxiety caused by Facebook, which is affecting our quality of life and triggering bad manners. Fortunately most children in this decade are too absorbed in Harry Potter novels to be affected.
The Civil Partnership Act came into force in 2005. The Equality Act insists that health, disability, gender or race should not influence employment selectors. Even low income youths go abroad for stag and hen weekends. The Old Guard of grandees keep their heads below the parapets.
A global financial crisis over subprime mortgages, the fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the MPs’ expenses scandal increase distrust in authority. Richard Dawkins publishes The God Delusion. Labour is in office throughout and, despite Otis Ferry breaking into the chamber of
the House of Commons to protest, hunting is banned.
SCROLL TO EXPLORE HER REIGN BY DECADE
London, under Boris Johnson as Mayor, hosts the 2012 Olympics. A London house sells in 2013 for £250 million, 700 times the average house price
then of £370,000. David Cameron is in office and Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour Party. But in 2019, following Theresa May doing all the groundwork for Brexit, she is voted out and Boris comes in. He storms to victory with a huge majority following a general election.
Explore the reign by decade
The generally dank decade is memorable for its miners’ strikes, led by the angry Arthur Scargill, three-day weeks and power cuts and generalised cringing in anticipation of random mainland attacks by the IRA. Little money is being splashed around and there is scant glamour on view.