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Queen Elizabeth II turns 96

LONDON (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II turned 96 on Thursday, receiving a rousing ‘Happy Birthday’ from a military band and ceremonial gun salutes, after a troubled year hit by health concerns.

The Band of the Coldstream Guards, in red tunics and bearskin hats, played the tribute to crowds of onlookers outside her Windsor Castle home west of London.

Ceremonial gun salutes resounded across the country, including at the Tower of London.
But the queen – the oldest and longest-serving head of state in the world – marked the occasion with little fanfare, retreating to her Sandringham country estate in eastern England for a short break.

No official engagements have been planned, although royal officials released a photograph of the horse-loving head of state with two of her fell ponies.

Her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate called her “an inspiration to so many across the United Kingdom (UK), the Commonwealth and the world”.

Royal tradition since the 18th Century has also seen the monarch have a second, official birthday, typically celebrated in warmer weather in June.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with her Fell ponies Bybeck Nightingale and Bybeck Katie on the grounds of Windsor Castle in Windsor. PHOTO: AP

This year’s official birthday coincides with four days of public events from June 2-5 to mark her record-breaking 70th year on the throne.

United States (US) toy manufacturer Mattel released a new Barbie doll of the queen to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee.

The Sandringham trip is being seen as a “positive step”, given her recent health problems, British media reported.

Since an unscheduled overnight stay in hospital last October, she has cut down massively on public appearances on doctor’s orders.

A back complaint and difficulties standing and walking have seen her cancel a number of engagements, including recent events to mark Easter. A bout of COVID-19 in February left her “very tired and exhausted”, she admitted earlier this month.

But William’s brother Prince Harry told US broadcaster NBC in an interview aired on Wednesday that she was “on great form” when he saw her last week.