Why the Queen is a thoroughly modern monarch

By Catherine Olive

The Queen has seen so much in her 91 years, having been born in the first quarter of the last century, spent six decades on the throne and welcomed numerous great-grandchildren. But with the spring in her step and the light in her eye, there's no doubt that the monarch is 91 years young. Always staying in touch with the times and possessing the secret of staying youthful in spirit, Queen Elizabeth is a thoroughly and eternally modern monarch.

Since she ascended the throne in 1952, the world has changed in countless ways. Society, politics, technology, the very environment we live in are all profoundly different. And though she embodies the vital continuity offered by an institution that's been with us for more than a millenium, the Queen has not only kept up, she's often been at the forefront of change.

TAP TO VIEW GALLERYThe-Queen The Queen has often been at the forefront of change

By staying interested and engaged long past the age when some people have become stuck in their ways, she's a lesson to us all – and has made sure that not only she, but the British monarchy itself, remain absolutely relevant.

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It was the Duke of Cambridge who expressed this best, back in 2002, his grandmother's Golden Jubilee year. He remarked that: "Time and again, quietly and modestly, the Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important."

Here are some of the ways in which the Queen is, and always has been, a thoroughly modern monarch.

EMPOWERING WOMEN

The Queen tour The monarch has undertaken almost 300 official overseas visits

She didn't have to fight for the top job, it's true. But nor did she ever, for one moment, let anyone think a male heir would have been more worthy of the throne. She's worked tirelessly, at home and abroad, while bringing up four children.

Without doubt our most-travelled monarch, the Queen has undertaken in total almost 300 official overseas visits to 129 countries. She still works constantly, going through the red box of government papers that lands daily on her desk, as well as carrying out hundreds of official engagements each year.

As former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell put it, in a tweet to commemorate Her Majesty becoming Britain's longest-serving monarch in September 2015: "The ultimate woman of girl power #QueenElizabeth II."

BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL

The Queen in bright green The 91-year-old doesn't shy away from bright colours and prints

How many women of Her Majesty's age are so willing to experiment with fashion? "She definitely doesn't have the attitude of someone of her generation," says Stewart Parvin, the designer responsible for some of her most eye-catching eveningwear. "She is youthful in her opinions, youthful in her attitude to life and she mixes easily with people half her age. I think this shows in the way she dresses. She doesn't stick with traditional outfits: she is willing to step out of her comfort zone."

This is particularly evident in her colour choices. Having developed a taste for bold shades to ensure she can be seen in a crowd, she shows no sign of fading now into more neutral shades. The vibrant burnt orange and scarlet ensembles she's worn recently for Christmas at Sandringham typify her daring approach.

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The Queen coronation with Prince Philip The tech-savvy monarch insisted her coronation should be televised

From the moment when, as 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Windsor of the wartime ATS, she learned to service a lorry, the Queen has shown a keen interest in how things work. (Her mother remarked, back then: "We had spark plugs last night all the way through dinner.") In her desire to get closer to her people, Her Majesty was among the first to see the huge potential of television, insisting that her 1953 Coronation was televised, despite the objections of her Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

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In 1969, she allowed the making of a documentary, Royal Family, which was a true first since it showed their life behind closed doors. It was viewed by three-quarters of her subjects and some 40 million people worldwide. More recently, she sent her first email from an army base back in 1976, and launched the Buckingham Palace website in 1997. She has owned a mobile phone for over a decade, and, unusually for a great-grandmother, an iPod as well. It's all part of her lifelong determination to be, in the modern term, connected. In that, she has succeeded triumphantly.

In December 2015, she sent a message of good wishes to British astronaut Tim Peake, as he joined the International Space Station. He replied with a 'God save the Queen' message to her, directly from space.

GETTING CLOSER

The Queen 1997 admiring all the flowers with Prince Philip at her side The Queen ensured that Princess Diana was honoured with a royal ceremonial funeral

Brought up in an age and environment where it was not the done thing to show emotion, the Queen was criticized for her apparent coldness amid the national outpouring of grief following Princess Diana's death. After spending time comforting William and Harry in private, she acknowledged the nation's feelings and shared her own in an unprecedented address, speaking "as your Queen and as a grandmother", and "from my heart". More important still, she ensured that the People's Princess was honoured with a funeral worthy of a woman loved and admired throughout the world.

MONEY MATTERS

Her Majesty has taken several steps to show both that she appreciates the public's financial support of the monarchy, and that she knows the institution must evolve to survive. She contributed to the cost of repairing Windsor Castle following the fire of 1992 by opening part of Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time ever. She volunteered to pay income tax and capital gains tax, so that since 1993 her personal income has been taxable. And according to senior royal sources, she "entirely recognized" the need for the monarchy to play its part in reducing public spending, resulting in the 2013 reform of the Civil List, the biggest change to royal funding in 250 years.

REDUCE AND RECYCLE

The Queen in a soft purple Her Majesty often recycles outfits, and wore this purple ensemble in 2013 and 2016

Style icon the Duchess of Cambridge is often praised for keeping the cost of her wardrobe in check by reusing outfits, but her grandmother-in-law has long had the habit. And she doesn't stop there. The historian Sir Roy Strong calls her the "make do and mend Queen", pointing out that she was shaped by growing up during the austere post-war period.

Now that environmental and social concerns have made frugality fashionable once more, the Queen is ahead of the curve. Her personal dressers use a combination of both new and old fabrics when designing an outfit, including some given to her when she was a Princess. Her shoes and bags are almost always black or white, rather than in shades that only match particular clothes. And while the shoes are handmade, she makes them last for years, by having them regularly reheeled and even re-topped.

MULTICULTURAL

The Queen riding an elephant The Queen often immerses herself in other cultures

The Queen may be head of the Church of England, but her interest in religion certainly extends to other faiths. In 2002, for example, she visited a mosque, Jewish museum, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara, all in the UK.

On tours abroad, she immerses herself in other cultures. When she dons a Maori cape or rides an elephant, it means far more to her than simply colourful symbolism. She sees her task as Head of the Commonwealth as being to reinforce the links which unite people, in the face of so much which divides us. She's experienced first-hand the threats posed by World War II, the Cold War and now, by international terrorism, and viewed from this perspective, her respect for different cultures is modern in the most truly vital sense.

LIGHTNESS AND LAUGHTER

Although she has devoted her whole life to Crown and country, the Queen doesn't take herself too seriously. She possesses the same lively sense of humour now as in her youth. (Once, when Prince Philip returned from a long overseas tour with a beard, the Queen greeted him sporting a false one.)

Still, everyone was stunned by the James Bond spoof she pulled off just five years ago at the Olympics closing ceremony. As full of joie de vivre as ever, Her Majesty sent up both herself and fellow British icon Bond to perfection with that unforgettable image of the parachute jump. And of course, she soared even higher in our admiration and affection.

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