This Side of the Pond – April 7

Britain is gearing up for a party of regal proportions. My queen has invited all of us to celebrate her 90th birthday and, while only the lucky few will be quick enough to secure tickets to the official shindig, the whole country is making plans of its own.

This, you see, is the first time that a British monarch has reached such a venerable age. Elizabeth II has beaten out her closest competitor, Queen Victoria, by almost a decade and has also broken the record set by Victoria’s reign, which lasted 63 years.

Naturally, because love for our royal family still runs deep among the masses, there are celebrations galore on the cards, from thanksgiving services and parades to street parties and a few somewhat less official ideas. It’s rather sweet to see how imaginative my countrymen have been.

The official birthday party will take place at Windsor Castle, a glorious structure that towers over the town below, where locals celebrate their prime location with plenty of bunting and market stalls offering a selection of royal tea towels and thimbles.

The party will include 900 horses and 1500 participants from around the world, celebrating her 90-year journey with highlights including her marriage, coronation, dedication to the Commonwealth and involvement with the British armed forces. Sadly, unlike at the Olympics, I can’t find any mention of plans to have her parachute into the arena from a helicopter.

On April 21, her birthday will be marked by the lighting of beacons up and down the country: the early warning systems we once relied on in times of war. Probably the most famous use of these was during the first Elizabeth’s reign, when the Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast.

The beacons were lit, the news spreading from one hilltop to the next. The “invincible” armada didn’t fare well, partly thanks to those beacons – it is said that Sir Francis Drake, who you might know from his adventures to these shores in pre-colonial days, had more than enough time to finish his game of bowls before getting ready to go to battle.

The Queen’s Pageantmaster is in charge of the ceremony, part of an unbroken tradition of celebrating royal milestones across 225 separate communities. Elizabeth herself will light the principle beacon.

Fans of royal couture can meanwhile view the largest ever display of her outfits over the years, with an emphasis on the use of tartan in her dresses. Apparently, the Queen prefers to wear bright colors because it makes her more visible in a crowd – that way, nobody need leave a royal event without having caught a glimpse of the monarch.

The Queen will also attend a national service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral, followed by her Birthday Parade in front of the palace. She will also host the Patron’s Lunch, a street party for 10,000 guests, to celebrate her patronage of more than 600 organizations around the Commonwealth. Frankly, with that much on her to-do list, it’s a wonder she doesn’t take more naps.

Perhaps the most fitting way that my country has chosen to mark the Queen’s birthday is by keeping all the pubs open for an extra two hours. Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, made the announcement last week and one can only imagine the flurry of activity going on right now to make sure they’re all fully stocked with cider and pork scratchings.

Unofficially, a Clean for the Queen initiative recently got underway, with more than 200,000 volunteers tidying up their neighborhoods in time for her birthday. According to one celebrity sponsor, the Queen detests litter and will always pick it up if she happens across any.

Meanwhile, a group of school kids from Hereford have created a birthday card for her that stands over five feet tall and will apparently be delivered the 300-odd miles to Buckingham Palace by bicycle. Mezzo soprano superstar Katherine Jenkins will be releasing a special version of the national anthem, children from Stafford are designing a flower bed for their local park in the Queen’s honor and the Royal Yacht Britannia is inviting anyone who shares her birthday to board the “floating palace” for free to enjoy champagne and cake.

Several communities are hosting tea parties exclusively for 90-year-old guests from their area, not to mention all the picnics, lunches and music festivals planned for the big day.

And then there was the much-heralded documentary: The Queen at 90, a look at her life as monarch that included unprecedented access to her private and public life. Though she is one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, even the Brits don’t know a great deal about our monarch.

We learned that she has a remarkable talent for putting others at ease and making daunting engagements more light-hearted. She reportedly stood outside the door to the Diplomatic Reception, a gathering for more than 800 international guests, and whispered to her Lord Chamberlain, “Do you think if we open the doors, there’ll be anyone there?”

We learned that she is the quiet guide for the rest of her family, encouraging rather than dictating when it comes to the good works they choose to do. That her great-grandson, Prince George, knows her as “Gan-Gan” and that her kind and gracious nature is remarked upon almost everywhere she goes – including by the President of the United States.

We learned that her lifelong love of horses continues today: at 90 years old, she still rides every weekend and is never happier than when. We learned that her dedication to the duty of being Britain’s most important ambassador has not waned in the 64 years of her reign.

And finally, we learned that, somewhere in the palace, propped up near a pile of books, is a decorative pillow belonging to Elizabeth that reads, “It’s good to be queen”. Behind all the pomp and protocols and the endless public engagements, she is still the family matriarch with the wicked sense of humor.