Royal Pictures from History: first sight of Elizabeth II as Queen

In this occasional series, looking at famous royal images from history, Royal Central goes back to 1952 and the moment the world first saw Elizabeth II after her sudden accession to the throne on the death of her father, King George VI.

The Image: Queen Elizabeth II, February 7th 1952, London Airport

Embed from Getty Images

The Story 

Elizabeth had left London Airport a week before for a tour of Commonwealth countries. Her father had stood on the tarmac, then, waving her off. But as she and Prince Philip stayed at Treetops in Kenya, news came through of the death of King George VI, who passed away in his sleep at Sandringham, Norfolk in the early hours of February 6th 1952. Elizabeth, then 25, returned home immediately.

She had left the airport as a princess, smiling and waving as her family came to see her off. Then, the ceremonies had been more relaxed but on her return, the magnitude of the events that had overtaken her became apparent to all. She returned as Queen, with the eyes of the world on her.

Waiting at the bottom of the aircraft steps were the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and a host of politicians and officials, all ready to greet their new Head of State. Dressed in black, the Queen shook hands with each of them before leaving for the privacy of home and a first chance to grieve alongside her mother, Queen Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret.

The Legacy

Millions of images have since been taken of Elizabeth, the Queen but this remains perhaps the most poignant. The woman who walked down the steps of that aircraft has gone on to become the longest reigning Monarch in British history, now entering the 68th year of her rule. This one image captures the moment that a new chapter in her royal story began.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.