Britain's Birthday Girl

She doesn't officially hit the century mark until Aug. 4, but Britain's Queen Mum has been kicking up her heels for a while now, beginning with the big bash her oldest daughter (a.k.a. QEII) threw June 21 at Windsor Castle. Last week, with her favorite grandson, Prince Charles, at her side, she presided over a parade in her honor that was billed as the Pageant of a Hundred Years. The goofy procession included a cardboard Berlin Wall, Jerry Hall dressed in faux-Elizabethan gear and members of the Worshipful Company of Grocers (one of the 350 charities that count her as their patron).

Through it all, she waved graciously and stuck to her ever-so-photogenic trademark smile. Tough for the average centenarian, perhaps, but a piece of cake for the grande dame Hitler once described as the most dangerous woman in Europe because she was such an effective morale booster during World War II. Long before Diana became a media darling, this Scottish aristocrat mastered the art of imagery. The most popular deb of her day, she married Prince Albert, the Duke of York, although she had hoped to land his older brother, the future Edward VIII. Luck went her way when Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson and Albert was crowned George VI--which made her Queen Consort.

It was a role she played to the hilt. During the Blitz, when Winston Churchill suggested that the royal family move to the country for their own safety, she responded: "The children could not go without me, I could not possibly leave the king and the king would never go." After German bombs hit Buckingham Palace, she professed to be pleased, saying: "It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face." The reference to a working-class section of London was a brilliant PR stroke--and made her the most popular royal for generations.

After her husband died, she carved out a new role as the national granny. The benign image stuck, even though she's rumored to down a bottle of gin a day, loves going to the racetrack and still stays up late hosting dinners and parties. And every day at 11, her daughter calls. Your mum should be so lucky.

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