Groucho marks Queen's 80th

Britain's self-effacing Queen Elizabeth II quoted comedian Groucho Marx as she sought to brush off the accolades during lavish 80th birthday celebrations.

"As one gets older, birthdays seem to come round quicker: they are, therefore, less obviously excuses for wider celebration than personal moments to count one's blessings," she told guests at a celebratory lunch in London.

"As Groucho Marx once said, 'Anyone can get old - all you have to do is to live long enough'."

The monarch, who turned 80 on April 21, made the comments in a light-hearted speech to about 350 VIPs, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the Georgian splendour of the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor of London's official residence.

The queen, who reportedly wanted her birthday festivities to be low-key, also sought to turn attention away from herself, declaring that there were "many other anniversaries this year which are more deserving of celebration".

They included charity schemes run by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and her eldest son and heir-to-throne, Prince Charles, which were both celebrating their 50th and 30th anniversaries this year.

"Both organisations in their different ways have changed - and continue to change - countless people's lives for the better," she said.

Praise from dignitaries

But the efforts of Europe's oldest living monarch to make light of her birthday failed to keep dignitaries from queuing up to praise her lifelong work.

Mr Blair praised the queen's "lifetime of service" and her "great judgment", as well as the respect in which she is held across the Commonwealth and the wider world.

Describing how she had reigned so successfully since 1952, he added: "The reason has been the overriding quality you possess and which has guided you and impressed us from the moment you became queen: obedience to duty. Duty is what marks you out, ma'am."

Earlier, some 2,300 people from close family and senior royalty, to pop stars, politicians and about 100 commoners selected by ballot attended a public service of national thanksgiving at London's St Paul's Cathedral

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, praised the queen in his sermon for her "steadfast commitment to the calling that is hers, freely given to this nation and Commonwealth".

Also present were Philip, Charles and his sons, princes William and Harry, her daughter Princess Anne and younger sons, princes Andrew and Edward.

The Queen's Bodyguard, the Yeomen of the Guard in their distinctive red and gold uniforms, stood inside the cathedral for the latest high-profile event since celebrations at the time of her birthday.

Monarchy “keeps power human”

Dr Williams praised the British monarchy as a "way of keeping power human", adding that common loyalty to the monarch helped hold the country together.

"Birthdays are among the most vivid reminders we can have of our common humanity, and our common call to journey through time with each other," he told the congregation.

Prayers were also said for Prince Philip, who has just turned 85, "in gratitude for his unwavering strength and support in lifelong partnership".

Prince Charles' second wife Camilla, whose father died earlier this week, was also mentioned in prayers, said by the Pakistan, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Barbados High Commissioners to London.

Listening from the political world, in addition to Mr Blair, were his predecessors Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major, and opposition leaders David Cameron, from the Conservatives, and Sir Menzies Campbell, from the Liberal Democrats.

Faith leaders were represented from the Catholic Church, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh religions.

Source AFP

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