Queen Elizabeth II
Athough born a princess, Queen Elizabeth was not originally in direct line to the throne. Had Edward VIII not abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936, his younger brother George Elizabeth's father would not have been crowned King, thus making the young princess heir presumptive.
The first child of the Duke and Duchess Of York, Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, and christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor in the chapel at Buckingham Palace. Educated at home with her younger sister Princess Margaret, she later went on to serve during World War II as a subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she reached the rank of Junior Commander.
In 1947, she married a handsome young naval officer, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a distant cousin she met when she was just 13 and the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. Their first child, Prince Charles, was born in 1948 and his sister Princess Anne came along two years later.
When her father's illness forced him to abandon a proposed visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1952, the Princess, accompanied by Prince Philip, undertook the journey in his place. On February 6, while in Kenya on the first stage of her trip, she received the news of King George VI's death and her own accession to the throne.
The coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, and was broadcast on radio around the world and - at the young Queen's request - on television, bringing the splendour of the event to hundreds of thousands of people in a way never before thought possible. When the Queen's youngest sons, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, were born in 1960 and 1964 respectively, they were the first children to be born to a reigning monarch since Queen Victoria.
The Queen has experienced the marriage break-ups of three of her four offspring, and the demise of Charles and Andrew's relationships, combined with a major fire at Windsor Castle, led her to describe 1992 as an annus horribilis in her Christmas speech for that year. Recent years may have been turbulent ones for the royal family, but there is no doubt that its titular head has helped uphold the traditional image of the monarchy while contributing significantly to the creation of a modern role for it.
The British monarch maintains close contact with the prime minister, with whom she has a weekly audience when she is in London, and acts as host to visiting heads of state. In the course of her reign she has visited nearly every county in the realm, and as her 80th birthday celebrations in 2006 proved, the energetic monarch shows no sign of slowing down.