All Over England, Mum's the Word as the Beloved Queen Mother Celebrates Her 90th Birthday in Royal Style

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Saturday, Aug. 4, saw the London temperature reach 93°F, and it seemed as if everyone in Britain had taken leave of his senses. Actor Sir John Gielgud blathered on about fairy godmothers. Fleet Street newspapers filled their editorial pages with sentimental mush. Even steely Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lapsed into a reverie of effusive prose in the closing session of the House of Commons. The cause of this nationwide overdose of schmaltz? Not heatstroke but the 90th birthday of the realm's most adored grandmother—the Queen Mum.

Beaming beneath her powder-blue hat, the good Queen Mother didn't disappoint the 10,000 devotees who gathered outside her residence, Clarence House, to sing "Happy Birthday to You"—although she did keep them waiting. Shooed away from the street under the Queen Mum's balcony until 8 A.M. because, as one staff member put it, "we think she deserves a lie-in," the well-wishers abided patiently for three more hours until she appeared. Emerging onto the street, the birthday girl (born during Queen Victoria's reign) took an unplanned walkabout, accepting gifts. Nick Peacock, 7, handed her a posy and asked, "Can I be King?" "You'll have to work very hard," the Queen Mum told him. She also received a bottle of ready-mixed gin and tonic. "Thank you," Her Majesty said. "I'll drink that later."

It was a marvelous day, too, for royal watchers, who held their ground until members of the royal family arrived for lunch shortly before 1 P.M. In addition to her two daughters, Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Prince Philip) and Princess Margaret, there were several of the Queen Mum's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Prince Charles, still wearing a sling on the arm he broke seven weeks ago. Alongside her husband was Princess Diana, sporting a stylishly trim new haircut (see page 44).

The festivities capped off four months of birthday celebrations that included a parade and a gala TV special. But perhaps the greatest tribute to the nonagenarian was the kind words of her countrymen. An editorial in the News of the World summed up the nation's feelings best: "In a world changing so fast, it's comforting that a few of the nicest, most British things remain. Like Sunday roast, village cricket—and the Queen Mum." Hear, hear.

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