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Happy birthday, Elizabeth! Nine Elizabeths reflect on their lives

Moira Petty / 22 March 2016

To mark the Queen's 90th birthday on April 21, nine other Elizabeths, who also have decade-busting birthdays in 2016, reflect on their lives, shares their hopes and muse on being 'Queen for a day'.

The decade-busting Elizabeths. Photograph by Christopher Kennedy, styling Tabitha Hawkins.

Elizabeth Woodland, 10 in June

Schoolgirl, Ramsgate, Kent

What’s your favourite thing about being 10? When I play hide-and-seek I’m small enough to fit into lots of tiny spaces. I can squeeze into cupboards and stand behind trees and my friends can’t see me at all.

What’s been your greatest achievement? Two of my poems being published in different books, one about Hallowe’en and another on monsters. I love making up rhymes, also creating acrostic poems – the initial letter of each line makes up a word running vertically.

What would you do if Queen for a day? I’d have a tea party in a field and all my friends would come. Taylor Swift would sing for us and we’d all be dancing. We’d eat cucumbers, egg mayonnaise sandwiches, sweets and cakes. And at the end I’d declare there’d be no school for a month.

What do you hope Britain will be like when you’re 90? I hope there’ll be no wars. I see it on the news and it makes me feel worried. Everyone in the world needs to start changing their attitude.

Elizabeth Cresswell, 20 in March

History of Art undergraduate, London

What’s been the biggest change in the world in your lifetime? Cheap flights. You can fly to Europe for next-to-nothing. My friend and I went to Amsterdam for £30. It was great although we too fully embraced the city’s (entirely legal) café culture, staggering out white as sheets. I want a year out after uni to see the world so cheap flights are a huge bonus.

Favourite thing about being 20? Setting up home in a new city while at uni. I share an all-girls house. It’s been a shock having to pay bills and argue with utility companies. The high spot is the massive roast I cook every Sunday, insisting, like my parents, on no mobiles while we eat. There's a strict no-Tinder policy at the dinner table.

Greatest achievement? Pulling my socks up in my GCSE year. I’d missed assemblies, played pranks, been disruptive and was suspended three times from my all-girls school. I was 15, my hormones were raging, my parents had split up. I was so angry.

Then it came to me suddenly that the only one I was harming was myself. I knuckled down and Mum stopped getting warning calls from school. My proudest moment was after my A Levels (A*, A, A). The head took my hand and said: ‘I truly mean it: well done.’

Queen for a day? Queens have magical powers, don’t they? So I’d turn the clock back to the early seventies. I love the ethos of the era – peace and love, Boho clothes, and everyone talking to each other and not into their phones. Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? I hope we’ll be taking better care of the environment, that cities won’t be covered in smog and we’ll be using cars less. I hope all the trees and animals we have now will still exist and there’ll be an end to poaching and hunting.

Elizabeth Haw, 30 in November

Whisky supply assistant, Banffshire

Biggest change in your lifetime? The smoking ban. Beforehand, I’d wake up after a night out smelling of cigarettes. The ban came into force in Scotland when I was 19. It was lovely not to sit in a fog of smoke in bars.

Favourite thing about being 30? I appreciate lessons I’ve learned along the way, in my teens and twenties. I now realise that those I looked up to as the cool crowd, weren’t really. Now my wider circle of friends has reduced to those I really want to spend time with.

Greatest achievement? Rehoming rescue dogs. We took one chocolate Labrador, a poor old soul of eight, who’d been abandoned and misused. He stank to high heaven on the six-hour car journey home. He was a former stud dog who’d never been outside a cage. I trained him to walk on a lead, wearing socks because his foot pads were so soft they bled. Bear died a year on because of a genetic condition but he was well-loved for that year.

Queen for a day? I’d go on a whirlwind tour of the Nordic countries by private jet. It’s a part of the world I love and I’d explore the wilder, less accessible parts of Scandinavia.

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? I hope there will be more understanding between the religions of the world. There are currently a lot of unhappy people who don’t understand that there is room for all beliefs and it’s not necessary to press your ideals on others.

Elizabeth Grimshaw, 40 in February

IT sales worker, Sevenoaks, Kent

Biggest change in your lifetime? It’s more acceptable for mothers to go out to work. My mum worked part time as a bank cashier, from 10am to 2pm, so she was there for us. Like most families – our children are three, five and six – it’s necessary for both parents to work fulltime. But even if I didn’t need the money, I’d want a career – I’d start my own business or work for a charity.

Favourite thing about being 40? Being done with all the partying and wild nights. Now I’m going to bed at the time I used to be going out. Instead, I find utter joy in doing things with the kids – going to the beach, seeing Mickey Mouse, visiting the Tower of London.

Biggest achievement? Living in Bremen, Germany for a year at 20, as part of my studies. I had to learn how to survive without my family. I could no longer just get on a train from Newcastle back to York. I met people of all nationalities in Bremen, we partied hard and I grew up. I realised I could live anywhere and made the move to London with no problem.

Queen for a day? I’d give the best party ever for youngsters from children’s homes throughout the country. Mum used to throw video parties for me – a big thing then – and do heaps of home baking. I felt very loved and I’d like less privileged children to have a taste of that for a day.

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? Greater opportunities for young people starting out in life. More jobs once they’ve graduated and an easier path to buying their first home. I pray my children won’t need to leave the country to find those things.

Elizabeth Titley, 50 in March

Chartered accountant, St Albans, Herts

Biggest change in your lifetime? Communication with friends. I grew up having a penfriend and writing thank-you letters. So it was natural, after university, to write to all my friends. It was special getting a letter back with a hand-written envelope. Now all you get is junk mail and bills. I keep up with friends on social media these days. I know more silly things about them – what their cats are up to – but people don’t communicate on such a deep level.

Favourite thing about being 50? Having a greater disposable income. My younger years were spent budgeting. For my first wedding, in St Albans Cathedral, we decided not to spend £80 on a tape recording of the beautiful service and choir, which I regretted later. Now we have wonderful holidays scuba diving and I’m considering early retirement.

Greatest achievement? Taking up exercise in my late forties. I’d done none before; hated PE at school. I didn’t want to look fat for my second wedding in 2014 and signed up for a military boot camp at weekends, crawling around in the mud. I also followed an online course aiming to get couch potatoes to run 5kms within nine weeks. It took me longer but I cracked it, losing two-and-a-half stone.

I still do the military camp twice a week and run 5kms two other days. I feel lighter, I walk differently and I’ve amazed my husband.

Queen for a day? I’d spend time with the Queen’s family on an off-duty day. I’d like to see how they interract and what they watch on the TV. Do they watch soaps and drink their tea out of mugs?

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? I’d love to see a cure for cancer. We’re all touched by it – my father died of it in his late sixties and my younger brother has been diagnosed. More people survive it though, so there is hope.

Elizabeth Eddison, 60 in July

Photographer, London

Biggest change in your lifetime? The internet changed everything. As a picture researcher, it made life easier but as a photographer I’m in competition with all the free pictures out there. The internet has put me back in touch with people I knew when I was 15 and in a band – all boys, with me on keyboards. We first met up five years ago and within minutes were joshing like the teenagers we’d once been. I’m a divorcee but draw the line at internet dating. You’ve really got to want to meet someone to get caught up in that.

Favourite thing about being 60? My free 60+ London travel card. I'll be able to go into the centre of town a lot more to see exhibitions and meet people. It’s very important as otherwise the cost of travel can really inhibit you. Greatest achievement? Keeping my sense of humour through thick and thin. I’ve had two marriages, lost my business and had to sell my home. I can laugh at all the stupid things I’ve done. I don’t think either of my husbands ever laughed as much as I did – maybe that was the problem.

Queen for a day? I can’t think of anything worse. I love that we have a queen but her whole life is organised and about having to be nice to people. The Queen has no choice in what she does and I don’t call that privilege. 

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? I hope Britain retains its sense of identity. It’s traditional things – the Changing of the Guard, strawberry teas at Wimbledon, the stateliness and sense of occasion the royal family gives us. Britain is great and I hope people don’t lose their pride in being British.

Elizabeth Burton, 70 in January

Retired IT worker, Alton, Hants

Biggest change in your lifetime? Computer technology in cars. Dad would come home with a sports car and Mum would say, ‘How can I get three kids into that?’ My first car was a lovely blue MGB GT with a left hand drive. Four of us somehow got into it to go to London for the opening of Hair. We got a puncture en route and had to change a tyre. Now cars do everything for you. Our Land Rover Discovery is quiet and smooth with an amazing heating system. It’s convenient – but some of the fun has gone out of driving.

Favourite thing about being 70? Not worrying about what people think. I’m nearly six foot and was self-conscious for a long time. We’d sit on chairs at school dances and, oh the embarrassment, when a boy asked me to dance and I’d have to stand up. I’m over it now. My second husband doesn’t even mind when I wear heels.

Greatest achievement? Designing and building our own house. It was soon after my second wedding. Luckily we were in the first flush of love. After the plastic cladding went up, before the brick, the local paper screamed: ‘blot on the landscape’.

We won locals round eventually with our mediaeval-style manor house with a feature hall open to the roof and galleried landing. There was a real sense of achievement when we moved in. We run a B&B in the summer when I have to discourage my husband from wandering into the drawing room in his gardening clothes.

Queen for a day? I’d spend the day at Balmoral as it looks like a fairytale castle. I’d walk in the grounds and then pop off to launch a ship. I’d end the day with a banquet and Scottish dancing. I’d be in hysterics because it’s so funny when you go round in a circle and can’t catch the other person’s hand.

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? I hope care for the elderly improves. Yes, there’s an element of self-interest, but I’d like to see more respect for the aged and more effort to allow them to stay at home for as long as possible.

Elizabeth Cook, 80 in April

Cruise line meeter-and-greeter, Deal, Kent

Biggest change in your lifetime? Lack of manners. People push past you, drivers are so impatient. My late husband always walked on the outside of the pavement and that was important to me. Britain would be a happier place if people were more polite and well-mannered.

Favourite thing about being 80? People being surprised that I’m 80. It’s always happening when I’m at my yoga or tango class. I’ve always liked to look glamorous. Family used to say I wouldn’t hang the washing out without putting on my lipstick first. I’ll go on glamming up and putting on the eye make-up as long as I can. And then I hope my granddaughter will do it for me.

Greatest achievement? Driving a six-and-a-half metre motorhome around Europe in my seventies. My husband and I took it in turns but once, when he’d hurt his leg, I did the whole drive from Nice to Dover. When we got to our front gates, he said: ‘I’ll take over now’ and I said: ‘You will not!’

Queen for a day? I would say exactly what I wanted about the country without being censored. It will make a change for the Queen to voice her own opinions.

Hopes for Britain when you’re 90? A strong and thriving NHS. The NHS looked after my husband in his final illness and I found only kindness.

Elizabeth Reed, 90 in May

Retired nurse, Durham

Biggest change in your lifetime? Electrical home appliances. Electricity is marvellous. What would we do without it? My mother was the first one in our street in a Northumberland colliery village to get a vacuum cleaner when I was 11. Everyone came to have a look and borrow it. We got a radio soon after but my father only allowed us to listen to the news. I remember war being declared one Sunday evening.

Life was drudgery for my mother, who spent all day baking, cleaning and washing. Now I can do three domestic tasks at the same time. It freed me up to do dressmaking, go ballroom dancing and swim.

Favourite thing about being 90? Being so mobile. I’ve never used a stick and don’t have a twinge of arthritis, in fact, no aches or pains at all. I’ve only just stopped doing all the decorating. I do exercises – vacuuming becomes a stretching session – eat a good diet but I don’t go without anything. I belong to local associations. My husband, also 90, isn’t doing as well so I’m his carer.

Greatest achievement? Making the most of every day. I feel awful if I waste a minute. If the laptop gets stuck, I go out for a walk. I was widowed at 63 and remarried at 70. We took 73 holidays in the first 12 years because we didn’t know how many years we’d have together. We’ve continued making new friends to this day.

Queen for a day? I’d love to see what it’s like to be waited on. My first job at 16 was as a housemaid for Lady Grey at Howick Hall, Northumberland. She was very kind. I was a classical pianist and doing exams while living there. She gave me the key to a room with a beautiful grand piano where I could practise in peace.

One day she came in. I rose to leave but she told me to continue. She sat in a wing chair with a book while I played.

She was like a mother to me and I’d like to show kindness to the servants who will wait on me. Then I will feed the corgis and take them for a walk.

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