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LONDON - Stung by royal break-ups, relentless snipping over her tax-free status and a fire at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth fa- mously dubbed 1992 her annus horribilis, or horrible year. Twenty years later, the world's highest-profile monarch finds herself basking in the glow of something wholly different: an annus mirabilis.
One. Marvelous. Year.
Commemorating her 60th year on the throne, the queen's diamond jubilee is drawing an estimated 1 million people to Lon-don for a four-day fête starting Saturday that, in terms of sheer pageantry, will dwarf last year's nuptials of her grandson Prince William and his now-famous bride, Catherine. Aboard a royal barge, the monarch will lead a 1,000-vessel flotilla down the Thames in a majestic scene inspired by a Canaletto painting.
A network of 2,012 beacons will be lit in her honor from the Scottish Highlands to the Channel Islands. Paul McCartney and Elton John will serenade her at a glittering concert outside Buckingham Palace.
Yet the queen is observing more than a milestone that puts her just three years shy of becoming Britain's longest-reigning monarch. At a time when King Juan Carlos has Spain seriously rethinking its monarchy, she is also symbolically marking the revival of a British royal house that has defied the odds by bringing a nation -- and a world -- back under its spell.
For a family once described as Britain's most dysfunctional, the rising fortunes of the British royals amount to what observers call a public relations coup. Although support for the monarchy has always been strong, a new poll by Ipsos Mori indicates that eight out of every 10 Britons want to keep the monarchy -- the highest level since surveys began in the 1980s.
Many credit the supernova wedding that produced the global stars now known simply as "Will and Kate" for providing the House of Windsor with its undeniable boost. But in the year since the bunting came down from Westminster Abbey, the royals appear to have solidified those gains.
Most importantly, the younger generation of Windsors -- including those now associated by marriage, such as Pippa Middleton -- have emerged as de facto pop culture icons. Their fame, royal watchers say, has given the British monarchy's international image a lift not seen since the early years of another royal couple -- Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Yet as Britain prepares for the queen's diamond jubilee, the monarchy more than ever is all about Her.
"At 86, the queen is having her star turn," said Dickie Arbiter, the queen's former spokesman.
Although publicly criticized for her initial inaction after Diana's death in 1997, the queen has almost always been seen as the glue of a nation and its living link to a commonwealth where she remains head of state and through which Britain enjoys outsize influence.
A royal long shot
Newspapers on both the political right and left are running gushing tributes. British cities great and small are being festooned with Union Jacks for more than 10,000 street parties (about double the number held for last year's royal wedding). Andrew Lloyd Webber penned a song. Two national holidays have been declared.
It is all in honor of a woman who at birth was a long shot for the throne. The daughter of George VI, who became king only after the abdication of his brother to marry a divorced American socialite, Elizabeth was crowned on June 2, 1953. The powers of the monarchy long ago reined in, she would watch from the gilded sidelines as the sun well and truly set on the greatest empire of its day, with the 1997 return of Hong Kong completing the passage of Britain's glory days.
Yet, through it all, and with her husband, Prince Philip, by her side, she would nevertheless stand as a regal symbol of state from the first icicles of the Cold War to the first moon landing, from the birth of the Beatles to the death of Amy Winehouse, from the once constant threat of Irish republican terrorism to the bombing of the London subway by homegrown Islamic extremists.
"We look across the pond and we see America tearing itself apart over politics and over here, we're thinking, there's a lot to be said for a constitutional monarchy," said royal biographer Robert Lacey. "We are recognizing the queen more and more as the independent national figure that unites all of us, and the one constant in our lives for the past 60 years."
A poll released within the last week indicates that roughly 40 percent of Britons are eager to see the popular William leapfrog his father, Prince Charles, to the throne, down from roughly 46 percent who felt that way about a year ago. Still, few predict a succession crisis.
Observers chalk that up largely to a queen who after six stalwart decades has somehow managed to endear the archaic notion of inherited monarchy to an otherwise progressive nation.
"It's hard to see her ever really going away," said Sean Brushett, a 19-year-old aspiring lawyer who waited hours in the rain to see her during her recent visit to south London. "The queen is the biggest celebrity in the world."