Britain's Queen Mother was deluged with flowers and cards yesterday by children who gave her a rousing 97th birthday reception. About 3,000 well-wishers packed six-deep outside her London home to sing choruses of "Happy Birthday" to the country's favourite grandmother, affectionately known as the "Queen Mum".
The Queen Mother, rejuvenated after a hip replacement operation, abandoned her royal golf buggy and walked along the line of cheering supporters, accepting armfuls of flowers.
The royal matriarch paid special attention to the children who thrust bunches of carnations and cards out to her.
"She is my favourite royal. I would like to live to be 100 too," said eight-year-old Joanne Day as she presented her bouquet.
"I have been coming every year since the war. I just love her to bits," said Ms Alice Saunders (68).
Tourists who had been to see the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace joined in. Ms Connie Bernardi, from New York, said: "The monarchy is part of England. Don't get rid of it."
The Royal Welsh military band, led by their immaculately groomed goat mascot Taffy, marched past and a 21-gun salute boomed out across Hyde Park.
The House of Windsor's image has been sullied by the personal woes of her grandsons, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, whose marriages ended in divorce.
British reverence and affection for the monarchy has waned but the Queen Mother, a keen horse racing fan and great believer in the restorative powers of a gin and tonic, consistently tops popularity polls.
It is all a far cry from the days when she was the symbol of a homely, family-rooted monarchy that also won respect for refusing to leave London during the German bombing of the British capital in World War Two.
Adolf Hitler called her "the most dangerous woman in Europe" because of the buoyant effect she had on public morale when Buckingham Palace was hit by a bomb in 1940.
She also helped restore the monarchy's tarnished image after the 1936 abdication crisis when King Edward VIII gave up his crown to marry American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson. This propelled the Queen Mother's shy and retiring husband George on to the throne.