Why the Queen has two birthdays – and which one is she celebrating today?

Queen’s 96th birthday celebrated with release of new photograph

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Queen Elizabeth II is 96 today (April 21) and is likely to spend a quiet day with her loved ones at her Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Britain’s longest-lived monarch travelled by helicopter to her Norfolk estate earlier this week, and will stay in the cottage her late husband Philip chose to spend his retirement years in. The Queen usually marks her actual birthday in private with family every year, and the day will be marked by gun salutes at Windsor, but she actually has a grand public birthday celebration every June.

A stunning new portrait of the Queen has been released to mark her big day, showing her at Windsor Castle in a dark green outdoor coat and clutching the reigns of two Fell ponies, reflecting her lifelong love of horses.

Birthday wishes have been sent by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, with other royals expected to pay tribute to the head of the Royal Family later today.

But this year her celebrations may be a more muted affair.

Speaking to US media, Prince Harry said the Queen might be downplaying her latest milestone, adding that “after a certain age you get bored of birthdays”.

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

The Queen was born on April 21, 1926, but celebrates two birthdays every year.

Her actual birthday is a private affair that is publically observed with several gun salutes across London, including a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London.

The  Queen celebrates another birthday with the public every June with a spectacular parade called Trooping the Colour.

The tradition of having a second public celebration to mark the monarch’s birthday dates back hundreds of years.

Trooping the Colour has been held on the second Saturday of June for more than 250 years.

The royal tradition began with King George II in 1748 as it gave the monarch the chance to hold outdoor celebrations to mark his big day.

King George II was born in chilly November – not a good time of year for an outdoor parade – so it was decided his birthday should be marked with the public on a warmer date.

This was when the decision to hold the monarch’s official birthday on the second Saturday of June was first made, and it has stuck to this day.

The Trooping the Colour parade travels from the Horse Guard’s Parade in Whitehall back up to Buckingham Palace.

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The Queen travels down to the Horse Guards parade where she is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops, before travelling back up to Buckingham Palace being followed by the spectacular procession behind her.

Huge crowds gather to watch the stunning procession which involves more than 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians.

The Queen is then joined by other members of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to watch a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

A 41-gun salute is also fired in Green Park to mark the occasion. 

While Trooping the Colour is a highlight in the royal calendar the event is one of many which has had to be cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Royal fans were hopeful the Queen’s official birthday would draw Meghan Markle and Harry back to Britain with their son Archie Harrison but this year the reunion will not be possible.

In previous years Trooping the Colour has delighted royal watchers with spectacular snaps of the family gathered on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

Last year, Kate Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William’s youngest Prince Louis, one, stole the show by waving to fans at his Trooping the Colour debut.

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