She is Britain's 40th to monarch since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066. Since her accession to the throne in 1952 there have been 11 Canadian prime ministers, 12 U.S. presidents, 12 British prime ministers, six Popes and six Arch Bishops of Canterbury. She is the first monarch to visit China, dating back to her trip in 1986. She has made 261 official overseas visits, including 96 state visits, to 116 different countries. Canada has always held a special place in her heart as evidenced by her 22 official visits. She speaks fluent French, is a former Girl Guide, an avid photographer, dog lover and has a Facebook page. She is the second longest serving monarch, three year's short of Queen Victoria's 63-year reign.
As Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee on June 2, a group of dedicated enthusiasts gathered at the Fireside Lounge at Chelsea Gardens in Surrey to mark the affair and pay tribute to the 86-year-old monarch.
More than 40 members and guests of the Anglo-Indian Recreation Club put on their best attire as they hosted a tea party to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee last Saturday. Elegant dresses, fancy hats and suits mixed with tea, pastry and song during the afternoon event.
While Queen Elizabeth never reigned over India, which gained its independence from Britain in 1947, its ties to the monarch remain strong. Considered the crown jewel of the British Empire, India's long history with the monarchy is not without its controversies. Dating back to the 16th and 17th century, Britain's colonization of the globe stretched far and wide, and India was no different. Immersed in trade, India was a vital economic cog in the British Empire and contributed a great deal to cultural influences that continue today. For this group of Canadians with Anglo-Indian ancestry, paying homage to the Royal Family is a way to celebrate the past.
"We are very proud of our heritage," notes Leslie Michael, president of the Surrey chapter of the Anglo-Indian Recreation Club. "We have a strong historical connection to the British and have contributed greatly over the course of history."
Michael points out the great military sacrifices India made while fighting alongside Britain, notably its conflicts during World War II in Northern Africa and the defeat of the "Desert Fox," German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel or defeating the Japanese in Burma.
"We've certainly paid our dues," said Michael.
Steeped in a rich history, Saturday's celebration was a chance for everyone involved to continue to honour a person they hold a deep respect for. For Margaret Deefholts, the Diamond Jubilee offered her a once in a lifetime opportunity. As members and guests wore traditional clothing of days gone by, she was honoured to take on the role Queen Elizabeth.
"You can't do much better than that," joked Deefholts, "it was just an irresistible, fun thing to do."
Growing up in Calcutta, she vividly remembers the queen's coronation on June 2, 1953, a year and a half after she officially took to the throne.
"We had no TV back then, but it was widely reported in all the newspapers. I especially remember the dignity that she carried herself with."
For Deefholts, it's that resolve that stands out as the one definable trait that she admires. To her, Queen Elizabeth represents a woman of great inner strength. While not without its missteps, most notably during the aftermath in the wake of the death of Princess Diana, Deefholts said the queen and the Royal Family have learned to adapt to the times to remain an important member of British and Commonwealth culture.
"Politicians come and go, but the monarchy has the weight of centuries of history and all that goes with it" explains Deefholts.
For Phyllis Beaven, Saturday was also about something very basic.
"This is just such splendid fun. Everyone is so up for it," she said. "Most of the fun came in the preparation."
As members and guests feasted on pastries and sweets, Beaven said the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth was the perfect opportunity to recognize Her Majesty for her great contributions over the past six decades.
"There are few words better to describe the queen than that of a woman of great dignity, extreme duty and great inner beauty."
For the Anglo-Indian Recreation Club, Saturday was a chance to say "thank you."