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Her Majesty The Queen, the longest reigning British monarch, has died aged 96. Crowned in 1953, she ruled over the United Kingdom and 15 other commonwealth realms for over 70 years.
Natural History Museum Director, Doug Gurr, says, 'Her Majesty's extraordinary reign spans times of significant social and environmental change and we are very grateful for the support both she and the Royal Family have shown the Natural History Museum.'
'Her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service was matched by her care for the natural world from reducing environmental impacts across the Royal Estates and Palaces to urging world leaders at the COP26 climate summit to 'achieve true statesmanship' and create a 'safer, stabler future' for the planet.'
'Her inspirational legacy in championing conservation work and the environment lives on in the commitment demonstrated by her children and grandchildren to nature and the health of our planet.'
At 2.40am on a cold and wet April in 1926, a princess was born in Mayfair, London. Her parents, known as the Duke and Duchess of York, named her Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.
Affectionately known as Lilibet by close family members, Elizabeth enjoyed the first decade of her life in relative privacy. She, along with her younger sister Margaret were educated privately at home in London and spent most of their time in Windsor Castle during World War II.
From a young age, Elizabeth displayed calmness in the face of conflict. One of the earliest examples includes a BBC radio broadcast during the start of the war when she reassured evacuated children that all will be well.
The young princess later served in the British Army where she trained as a driver and a mechanic. She was the first woman in the royal family to do so.
Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Phillip of Denmark and Greece when she was eight years old. The two started exchanging letters five years later and married in 1947.
Elizabeth was crowned queen at the age of 25, in Westminster Abbey. His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, who renounced his foreign titles to be her husband, remained by her side until his death in April 2021.
In May 1981, the Queen attended a private event celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Museum in South Kensington.
The Queen and Prince Philip were met with a warm welcome by Museum Trustees and their spouses, guests and staff members in the Central Hall. The room was filled with colourful dresses and balloons, a hum of conversations and a flow of lively music played by a military band.
Her Majesty unveiled a plaque which marked the anniversary of the Museum on the central landing and enjoyed a tour of the newly opened Origin of Species exhibition. Both she and her husband showed great interest in the research on display and asked a number of well-informed questions to the delight of the staff.
Sandra Chapman, the former Curator of Fossil Reptiles and Birds, recalls the event.
'The Museum has a variety of clubs for staff members, and I was representing one of the sports teams,' she says.
'The Queen asked me questions about my team and what it was like working at the Museum. It was quite a special experience to be able to have a conversation with her, which is not something everyone gets to do.'
After the exhibition and meet, the Queen and Prince returned to the central hall to sign the Distinguished Visitors Book, as well as a colour photo of themselves in court dress, before departing in the royal limousine.
Richard Sabin, Principal Curator of Mammals fondly remembers meeting Her Majesty in 2002 when she visited the Museum to open phase one of the new Darwin Centre.
'We were asked to select a specimen from our Sprit Collection to show the Queen,' he says. 'I selected a neonatal porpoise which I had collected from a Devon beach earlier that year.
'I remember the Queen approaching me and asking what the specimen was. I told her it was a new-born, stranded porpoise, part of our Cetacea research collection, and mentioned the Fishes Royal Prerogative, which the Museum's strandings project operated under.'
The Fishes Royal Prerogative is a law that was passed during the reign of King Edward II in 1324, which states the Queen owns all the whales, dolphins, sturgeons and porpoises captured within three miles of British waters.
Richard continues, 'The Queen said, 'isn’t it the smallest species that we see in British waters?'
'She was absolutely right. She had obviously done her research where British cetaceans were concerned.'
'She went on to ask me questions about porpoise diet, what their natural predators were and how many strandings were recorded each year. She smiled a lot while talking. I really enjoyed our conversation.'
Paul Cooper, a retired Museum librarian remembers his encounter with The Queen during the same event.
'I was one of the select staff members lined up in the atrium to meet Her Majesty when she came to visit during the opening of the Darwin Centre in 2002,' says Paul.
'The Queen and I spoke briefly about my work in the library, which she said was fascinating. Throughout the conversation, I had an awareness that she was looking at me quite intensely. I remember noticing her eyes were blue. Having her full attention was certainly an impressive experience.
'The Queen was blessed with a long life so her departure is an end of an age in an extraordinary way. Life is no longer the same in Britain.”
The long-standing relationship The Queen has had with the Museum has left a mark on the research staff both within its walls and outside.
Her Majesty the Queen is succeeded by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. She died the longest-serving female head of state in world history.