LONDON –– The Queen has thanked well-wishers at home and overseas for their “touching messages of kindness” as she becomes Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
Speaking in the Scottish Borders, the 89-year-old monarch said the title was “not one to which I have ever aspired”.
At 17:30 BST she had reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours and approximately 30 minutes –– surpassing the reign of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.
David Cameron said the service the Queen had given was “truly humbling”.
Dressed in turquoise with her trusty black handbag at her side, the Queen spoke briefly to the gathered crowds earlier.
“Inevitably a long life can pass by many milestones –– my own is no exception –– but I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages of great kindness,” she said.
The exact moment the Queen became the longest reigning sovereign is unknown. Her father George VI passed away in the early hours of February 6, 1952, but his time of death is not known.
Business in the Commons was postponed for half an hour so that MPs, led by Cameron, could pay tribute to the Queen.
The prime minster said she had been a “rock of stability” in an era when so much had changed, and her reign had been the “golden thread running through three post-war generations”.
He said it was “typical of the Queen’s selfless sense of service” that she thought today should be a normal day.
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said it was “no exaggeration” to say the Queen was “admired by billions of people all around the world”.
Ministers are to present the Queen with a bound copy of cabinet papers from the meeting in 1952 when Sir Winston Churchill’s government approved the content of her first Queen’s Speech.
In the House of Lords, leader Baroness Stowell said the Queen had served the country with “unerring grace, dignity and decency”, adding: “And long may she continue to do so.”
Buckingham Palace has released two official photographs to mark the occasion, taken by Mary McCartney in the Queen’s private audience room.
This is where she holds weekly audiences with prime ministers of the day, and receives visiting heads of state and government.
The Queen is taking her traditional summer break at this time of year at her private Scottish home, Balmoral.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Scotland on holiday and were expected to have dinner with the Queen at Balmoral.
Queen Victoria became queen at the age of 18 and ruled for 63 years, seven months and two days.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign has included 12 prime ministers, two more than served under Victoria.
One of those prime ministers, Conservative Sir John Major, rejected any suggestion the Queen had been too passive as head of state: “The monarchy wouldn’t be as popular if they were part of politics – they’re above and beyond it.
“But when the Queen meets her prime minister she has the opportunity to question, to ask, to counsel. Nobody knows and no prime minister is going to tell you exactly what happens at those meetings. So those who say she’s been too passive, how can they possibly know?”
The Queen is Head of the Commonwealth and sovereign of 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to Britain, and the organization’s Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma sent his congratulations.
“As a symbol of continuity during decades of unprecedented change, and by drawing our people together in their rich diversity, Her Majesty has embodied all that is best in the Commonwealth,” he said.
“With vision and dedication her example has encouraged successive generations of leaders and citizens to embrace the promise of the future.”
Anti-monarchist group Republic said the Queen’s long reign was a reason for reform not celebration.
Chief executive Graham Smith said: “It is now time for the country to look to the future and to choose a successor through free and fair elections, someone who can genuinely represent the nation.”