Editor's note: In 2012, the UK's Queen Elizabeth II became the second-longest serving British sovereign with a reign spanning 60 years. On June 4 - 6, the Queen marks her Diamond Jubilee year with a series of parties and pageants, and CNN will be there to follow the festivities. Leading up to the celebrations, we will put her reign in context with a series of articles, op-eds and interactives.
Her long reign (second only to Queen Victoria's) has seen Britain transformed from a war-weary declining imperial power into its modern incarnation as a member state of the European Union that rarely looks to its monarch for leadership, but still holds her in high esteem.
In 1952, when Elizabeth and Philip were on an official trip to Kenya, news came of her father's death. She was now queen.
And while it has witnessed its fair share of joy -- not least the recent marriage of the queen's grandson Prince William to Catherine Middleton -- Elizabeth's rule has also weathered many storms, both public and personal, as the monarchy has tried to keep pace with changing times.
Elizabeth Alexander Mary was born in 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. She did not become heiress presumptive to the throne until 1937 when her father was crowned King George VI after the scandalous abdication of his older brother -- events recently dramatized in the Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech."
As World War II erupted, Elizabeth was quietly groomed for statehood. While living out the blitz on London in nearby Windsor Castle, she was privately tutored in matters of constitution by Henry Marten, an eccentric yet respected teacher who reputedly kept a pet raven in his study.
She began making tentative steps to public life in 1940 when, aged 14, she made her first radio broadcast: a speech to children displaced by conflict. At 16 she was made an honorary colonel of the Grenadier Guards, a British army infantry regiment.