Rarely-seen pictures show Elizabeth and husband Prince Philip dancing and enjoying her time on the Mediterranean island of Malta
Credit: Hector Borg Carbott

With a broad smile and in the arms of her naval officer husband Prince Philip, the then Princess Elizabeth was having the time of her (married) life.

Dancing together at the Union Club Sliema, Malta on a night in December 1950, Elizabeth, 24, looked into the eyes of her dashing blond husband as they partied on the Mediterranean island.

She and Philip spent around two years from 1949-1951 living at the Villa Guardamangia in Valletta while he was based there in the navy.

This weekend, they have returned to the tiny island (with Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall) for the meeting of the heads of government from across the Commonwealth, the band of nations that have historic links with Britain, or have the Queen as head of state.

The time the couple spent largely on Malta was, biographer Ben Pimlott has noted, the “most ‘normal’ of her entire life.” Their then private secretary Mike Parker said it was a “fabulous period.”

It was, Pimlott writes in The Queen, a “haven of comparative privacy and freedom from official duties.” She was happy playing at being a service wife (albeit one with a retinue of servants) while she left her son, Prince Charles, then 1, in the charge of the royal nursery and his maternal grandparents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, back in Sandringham at Christmas time.

She announced she was pregnant with daughter Princess Anne while there, in April 1950, and headed home to Clarence House in order to give birth in August that year.

These pictures, taken by Hector Borg Carbott, a former Royal Air Force photographer, give a glimpse of how life looked – and underline what a special place it is for Elizabeth, now 89.

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Ten years ago, the Queen praised the “outgoing, generous Maltese people who have always offered us the hand of friendship,” and the couple has frequently visited, sometimes bringing son Charles (in 1954), while Prince William underlined the family’s connections by visiting in September last year to mark the island’s 50th anniversary of independence.