From her morning breakfast to her famous "red boxes" of documents, the monarch sticks to a strict routine
The woman who came to the throne as a mother of two at age 25 in 1952 keeps her life just so in a routine that has remained amazingly unchanged through the 63 years that she has served as sovereign.
Waking at 7:30 a.m., she listens to her vintage Roberts radio tuned to BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “She loves to hear British politicians being grilled by the presenters,” Brian Hoey, author of At Home With The Queen, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
A footman carries a “calling tray” of Twinings’ English breakfast tea in a bone china cup and saucer, served with milk (no sugar) and some Marie cookies, which a maid brings into her room.
After a bath, she will sit with her husband of 68 years, Prince Philip, 94, for cereal (she likes cornflakes), which is kept in Tupperware containers. She reads newspapers, but first to catch her eye is the Racing Post, which covers her favorite pastime of horse racing.
She then pores through the documents from the government in her so-called “red boxes” – scarlet leather cases with legal and other papers. The only days she doesn’t do so are Christmas and Easter, quiet non-working days for the devoutly religious woman. (She is head of the Anglican Protestant Church of England.)
If she has an official engagement, she will be seen in public later, coming in from Windsor Castle on Tuesdays for the week. Many of her other official roles are to meet with diplomats or the British Prime Minister, for example, in audiences behind closed doors. It is something she has become immensely experienced at over a period when she has met 12 American presidents.
She manages to keep completely neutral, to outside eyes and ears in any case. “I have worked for her 46 years, and have never heard her say anything to let anyone think she favored one political party over another or a political personality over another,” her former stud manager Sir Michael Oswald tells PEOPLE. “She has never put a foot wrong.”
And giving up – as her uncle Edward VIII did by abdicating in 1936 – is not an option. “As long as she is able to carry out her duties she will continue,” Oswald says.
But she has become adept at keeping her work life separate from her domestic one, a home life that involves other members of what has been called the “Family Firm.”
Sometimes she will host a lunch, helping her and Philip stay informed as they meet a cross-section of people from public life, politics and the celebrity world, as race car driver Lewis Hamilton recently recounted.
Her cousin Margaret Rhodes, 90, says she expertly juggles family with work, from attending to the concerns of a servants’ family or the tasks of hosting a party at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. “She has this ability to compartmentalize her brain,” says Rhodes, “and if she has a worry about something, she can shut the door on that compartment and be totally outgoing and happy with other people.”
In the evenings, she might watch classic British comedies or mysteries and detectives stories like Inspector Morse.
And then there are the horses. “If it’s during the racing season and she’s been busy during the day, then somebody will put together a recording of the races that day,” says Hoey. “Particularly, if one of her horses has been running.”
One of those keeping a check on how her horses are fairing is Oswald, 81, who says, “She not only loves them but she understands them in every aspect. Horse psychology is not the right word but she understands how they feel and how they react.”
Of course, the Queen is in an extraordinary position, but if things were different, she would be like many other aristocrats. Her cousin Rhodes adds, “She is a country person, and if she had not been who she was she would be living in the country with horses and lots of dogs.”
For many more fascinating details and photographs of record-breaking Queen Elizabeth, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday