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Queen plans low-key birthday

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LONDON — Unlike most people her age — 75 today — Queen Elizabeth II has a full-time job with no retirement plan.

The benefits are sensational, of course: palaces, foreign travel, an art collection any museum would envy. Not to mention the jewelry.

Something to celebrate? Not yet.

Her birthday plans are private and customarily low-key; most of the family is traveling on business. Public celebration is limited to a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park and 21 guns at the Tower of London.

The pomp always waits until a Saturday in June — June 16 this year — no matter when the reigning sovereign was born. This is in hope that the weather will smile on the proceedings and the public can gather in central London to watch the most splendid parade of the year — Trooping the Color.

Next year, more lavish festivities will mark the 50th anniversary of the queen's reign, an achievement that only three other rulers in the 1,200-year-old monarchy could claim.

Edward III ruled 50 years until his death in 1377. King George III reigned 59 years, during which time Britain lost the American colonies, and Queen Victoria had ruled for 63 years when she died 100 years ago.

To outdo her great-great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth would have to reign into her 90th year. That seems possible, as she appears to have the robust constitution of her mother, the 100-year-old Queen Mother Elizabeth.

It is almost unheard of for the queen to cancel an appointment or public engagement because of illness. If the queen gets the flu, she apparently suffers on her own time.

Her dedication has been rewarded by a loyal public. They may disapprove of her children's behavior sometimes and they may complain about the high cost of keeping the royal family in grand style, but the queen is still widely respected.

"I think she does an absolutely marvelous job," said 71-year-old Mary Guinane, standing at the gates of Buckingham Palace where a smattering of sightseers can be found at any daylight hour of the year.

Guinane was all in favor of modernizing the monarchy to "cut out the hangers on," but like most Britons she didn't want to lose the monarchy altogether.

"It will survive," she said. "It's gone through worse than this."

A MORI opinion poll found that 70 percent would vote to keep the monarchy if there were a referendum, and 19 percent would choose a republic. In similar polls since 1993, the pro-monarchy figure has ranged from 69 percent to 75 percent.

The MORI poll, based on interviews with 1,003 people April 10-12, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Significantly, the survey came in the midst of the worst publicity the royal family has had in a long time.

Prince Edward's wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, fell into a tabloid booby trap, making ill-judged remarks about the royals and the government to a reporter posing as a prospective client of her public relations firm.

The resulting brouhaha dominated the tabloids for days and even made a dent in the foot-and-mouth disease coverage of the serious newspapers.

As calm returned last week, The Sun tabloid, the country's biggest-selling daily and a leading purveyor of royal gossip and speculation, offered the queen a surprise editorial bouquet.

"The queen has served the people of this country well. She is held in affection by us all," The Sun said. "As we look forward to the queen's 75th birthday it is only right and proper to salute a very great lady."

On the Net:

Official monarchy Web site

MORI poll