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In February 1952, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth was enjoying a tour of Kenya with her husband of five years, Prince Philip, when her world changed forever. On Feb 6, her father King George VI died, prompting the 25-year-old royal to cut short her visit and return home, this time as the future Queen of England.
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On June 2, 1953, the queen's official coronation ceremony took place at London's Westminster Abbey. Her head-turning coronation wardrobe included three different crowns – one weighing over 4 lbs. and another encrusted with 1,333 diamonds – and an opulent Purple Robe of Estate, which took 12 seamstresses 3,500 hours to complete. The stately ceremony was the world's first televised coronation, watched by over 100 million American and 27 million Brits.
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The young queen began her first major tour of the British Commonwealth on Nov. 24, 1953. The six-month, round-the-world trip included stop-offs in Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Uganda, Libya and Gibraltar and covered a whopping 43,618 miles.
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COMING TO AMERICA
The queen made her first visit to America as Britain's monarch in October 1957. During her stay, the 31-year-old ruler met then-Vice President Nixon in Jamestown, Va., made a speech at the U.N. general assembly and even took in a Terps football game at the Byrd Stadium. Her emerging style also turned heads, including brightly colored tailored daywear and lavish jewels and furs after dark.
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BABY NO. 3
When the queen's third child, Prince Andrew, was born on Feb. 19, 1960, she became the first British monarch to give birth during her reign since Queen Victoria a century before her.
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Four years after Prince Andrew's arrival, the queen's fourth child and third son, Prince Edward, was born at Buckingham Palace on March 10, 1964. Photographed in the Buckingham Palace music room with big brother Prince Andrew just weeks after his arrival, the little prince lay in the same crib once slept in by his royal mama.
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When The Beatles became Britain's biggest stars, even the queen took notice. On Oct. 26, 1965, the monarch showed her appreciation for the hottest band on the planet by making Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr Members of the Order of the British Empire, bestowing them with M.B.E. medals during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
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The Kardashians weren't the first high-profile family to let the cameras capture family life behind closed doors. In 1969, the queen gave a film crew unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to life in the royal household for the documentary, Royal Family. Including footage of a family barbecue at her Balmoral Castle country estate and dinnertime chatter at her Windsor Castle weekend home, the film was only aired once amid reports that the royals worried it made them look "too ordinary."
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One of the first rulers to explore cyberspace, the tech-savvy monarch sent her first email from an army base in 1976. Today, the queen is a regular email user and keeps the world up to date with royal happenings via her official royal website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, Flickr account and YouTube channel!
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As Britain celebrated the queen's first 25 years on the throne with thousands of street parties, the monarch marked her Silver Jubilee with a lavish parade through the streets of London in the historic Gold State Coach and an exotic tour of some of the most far-flung countries in the British Commonwealth.
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Long before Will and Kate became Britain's favorite newlyweds, the proud queen was guest of honor at the July 29, 1981 fairy-tale wedding of her eldest son, Prince Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer. The televised nuptials broke records when an unprecedented 750 million viewers worldwide tuned in to watch shy Di marry her Prince Charming.
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The queen enjoyed more than a small family get-together to celebrate her 60th birthday on April 21, 1986. A whopping 6,000 British children gathered outside Buckingham Palace to sing "Happy Birthday," and the Royal Mail issued a brand new set of stamps to mark the her big 6-0.
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The queen made history in October 1986 by becoming the first British ruler to visit China. The politically neutral monarch's historic week-long visit included a scenic visit to the Great Wall and an up close look at the recently excavated terracotta army.
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The queen and Prince Philip celebrated their golden wedding anniversary Nov. 20, 1997, with a lavish dinner at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Mint issued a special five pound coin to commemorate the couple's 50 years together, and the monarch was presented with an identical bouquet to the one she'd carried down the aisle as a bride.
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The queen's 80th birthday celebrations lasted for three months, kicking off on April 19, 2006, with a lunch for a number of British citizens who also turned 80 on the queen's April 21 birthday. Other highlights included a birthday walkabout in Windsor, fireworks at Kew Palace, and a lavish party at Buckingham Palace for 2,000 lucky kids!
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In 2006, the queen was the talk of Hollywood thanks to Helen Mirren's Oscar-winning turn as the monarch in The Queen, a fictionalized account of the royal family's turbulent weeks after the tragic death of Princess Diana a decade earlier. Though insiders claim the queen has never seen the movie, Mirren told PEOPLE, "I will carry with me, to the day I die, a love for her."
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Celebrating 60 years of marriage to Prince Philip in 2007, the queen's diamond wedding anniversary made history as the longest marriage of any British monarch. The royal couple celebrated with a heartfelt service at London's Westminster Abbey and a tour of several British Commonwealth countries, including a return trip to Malta, where they spent their first two years of married life.
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During President Obama's first official visit to the U.K. in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama broke royal protocol by initiating an affectionate hug with the queen – a royal no-no unless the monarch makes first contact. But Queen Elizabeth II quickly responded by hugging her right back.
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Showing her enthusiasm for grandson Prince William's decision to marry Kate Middleton, the queen offered the young royals plenty of help with last year's royal wedding extravaganza. After offering some welcome guest list advice and handing over Buckingham Palace for the royal reception, the monarch couldn't hide her delight as she shared the spotlight with the royal newlyweds on April 29, 2011.