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Queen Elizabeth Celebrates 80th Birthday

April 21, 2006

WINDSOR, England (AP) _ Her gifts included a 21-gun salute, a Union Jack baseball cap, a tea set and a birthday tribute Friday from Prince Charles to his ``darling mama,″ 80-year-old Queen Elizabeth II.

``My sentiments today are those of a proud and loving son, who hopes that you will join with me in wishing the queen the happiest of happy birthdays, together with the fervent prayer that there will be countless memorable returns of the day,″ Charles said in a greeting aired on major British broadcasters.

``It gives me enormous pride to be able to congratulate her publicly in this way, and to thank her on behalf of us all for the many wonderful qualities which she has brought to almost an entire lifetime of service and dedication to her country.″

The prince, the heir to his mother’s throne, was hosting a dinner Friday night for the queen at Kew Palace in suburban London. The guest list was small and exclusive _ two dozen very close family members _ and a 10-minute firework display was planned before the meal. Music during the evening was to be provided by the London Chamber Orchestra.

Earlier Friday, the queen met well-wishers outside her Windsor Castle home, where an enormous Royal Standard flag flew to mark the day. Thousands of people began gathering outside the ancient castle, founded by William the Conqueror, hours before the queen emerged from the castle gate clad in a cerise suit and matching hat _ and with her ever-present handbag.

Royal walkabouts are often quick affairs, but the queen _ accompanied by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 58 years _ spent more than 45 minutes on the streets of the quaint town. She saw schoolchildren in their uniforms, people with balloons in the shape of corgi dogs _ one of her favorite animals _ and even, strangely, one woman dressed as a fox.

Colin Edwards drove 10 hours from Wales to Windsor to grab a spot outside the castle’s Henry VIII gate. An avid royal watcher who said he has met the queen 113 times since 1982, he wore a paper crown and gave the monarch a poem he had written for the occasion.

``I love this. It’s my way of showing my admiration and love for her,″ Edwards said. ``I could just have stayed home, and watched it on television, but I wanted to be here, for the atmosphere.″

During the walkabout, the queen received hundreds of bouquets of flowers, as well as stuffed animals, a mug and a baseball cap emblazoned with the Union Jack. From Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet, the queen received a Staffordshire tea set by Spode, an item the palace had indicated she wanted.

In Australia, where the queen is still head of state, Prime Minister John Howard said he would present the queen with an album of 15 photographs taken during her visits to the country. A British wildlife charity gave her a pair of swans called Dylan and Deena.

On Thursday, the queen had said all she wanted for her birthday was some sunshine. The day was overcast, but the rain held off.

The queen looked unusually relaxed as she chatted with the crowd. Along with spontaneous _ and sometimes off-key _ renditions of ``happy birthday,″ she also was treated to a chant from a group of schoolchildren whose punchline was ``go Queen!″

``She’s always the same. She never changes, does she?″ marveled John Tyler, 69, a retired military man who came with his wife Iris from Aldershot. ``She’s got older, but she’s always been a person of the people. She’s the queen of the people. Try and find another in the world like her. You won’t, will you?″

On the throne for 54 years, Elizabeth is Europe’s longest-reigning monarch and her 80th birthday has been the focus of a weeklong celebration in Britain. The festivities culminate in a service of thanksgiving on Sunday at Windsor Castle’s chapel.

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