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The Queen’s Public Functions
As the inheritor of a monarchical tradition which has endured for over a thousand years, the Queen is not just the head of State, but the living symbol of national unity. She provides the natural focus for popular loyalty. Ceremonial has always been associated with British kings and queens and, in spite of the changed outlook of both the Sovereign and the people, many traditional ceremonies and customs are retained. Royal marriages and funerals are still marked by impressive ceremonial; and the birthday of the Sovereign is officially celebrated every June by Trooping the Colour on Horse Guards Parade. Royal processions add significance to such occasions as the opening of Parliament, when the Queen drives in state from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, and the arrival of visiting heads of State.
Royal ceremonial arouses wide popular interest and is a vital factor in the relations between Sovereign and people. The relationship is fostered by many means, including modern mass communications media, which have played an important part in bringing the Queen closer to her subjects. Films like The Royal Family and Royal Heritage and the coverage of such events as the Silver Jubilee celebrations of 1977 have been seen by millions of television viewers throughout the world. It was estimated that 500 million people watched the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer and even more the tragic events of her death. Hundreds of royal visits to various parts of the country for public functions keep the royal family in close touch with new developments. These often involve visits lasting more than one day, and sometimes center on an international event such as the Royal Agricultural Show or more usually an event of local importance like the opening of a new bridge or hospital. There are also royal film, variety and concert performances in aid of charity, and visits to schools, universities, hospitals and factories. The Queen visits many important sporting events, and, as an owner and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses, frequently watches her horses run at race meetings. She attends the ‘Derby’ at Epson (one of the classic ‘flat’ horse-races) and the summer race meeting at Ascot.
One of the most important duties performed by the Sovereign is to act as host to the heads of State of Commonwealth and other countries when they visit the United Kingdom. When a State visit is involved, guests stay at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Their entertainment includes banquets, receptions, often a special ballet or opera performances and visits to places of particular interest throughout the country. On the many other occasions when heads of State visit the United Kingdom, either privately or for official purposes, they are nearly always entertained or received by the Queen. Luncheons are frequently held for other distinguished visitors from overseas.
The overseas tours which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh make together fall into two broad categories. There are visits to other Commonwealth countries, made at the invitation of the host government; and there are State visits to countries outside the Commonwealth at the invitation of a foreign head of State and accepted on the advice of the British Government. No previous Sovereign has undertaken overseas visits on such a scale. The Duke of Edinburgh has also visited many countries overseas by himself, both as the Queen’s representative and in his own right.
It is customary at Christmas for the Queen to speak on radio and television to all the people of the Commonwealth as their head.