Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years as British queen

At the King's Lynn, England town hall located in the east of England, a small woman in a big hat is greeted by officials in ceremonial robes, just like she's been greeted for sixty years.

Sixty years ago today, that woman, who was a young princess at the time, found out she was about to become the queen - Queen of England.

As 85-year-old Elizabeth the II celebrates her diamond jubilee, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips takes a look back at the story of the world's longest reigning monarch.

Elizabeth the II, born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, was 25-years-old when her father, George the VI, sent her off on a world tour. When she was on a stop in Kenya, she learned he had died, and she was the new queen. Her mother sent her a message. It said, "All my thoughts and prayers are with you. Mummie."

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She has been the queen not only for a new age, but for many new ages, according to royal writer Robert Hardman. "This was the first monarch who has reigned through a modern media age, who has reigned through so much social change.... (She) has reigned right the way through from the Cold War, through the jet age, the space age, the digital age," he said.

"She has seen pretty much the twentieth century at first hand, and she is still going strong," he added.

Some things haven't changed in the time Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne, and certainly not the dedication to duty she promised again today as she had done long ago.

"My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service," the monarch said when she assumed the throne.

They don't do job-approval ratings on monarchs, but few public figures have remained popular through twelve British prime ministers and an even dozen American presidents.

The prime ministers and presidents this queen is now working with weren't even born when she came to power. With nothing left to prove, she should be somewhere warm beside the royal fire on a cold winter's day, but she can still give lessons in dedication to public service.

For all it's privilege, it's not an easy job being queen, said royal historian Kate Williams -- and you never get to retire.

"You know it's an exhausting job. You stand all day. You smile all day, you have to be on camera... and be constantly playing the role as queen. You never get a moment off," Williams said.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.