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More than meets the eye

More than meets the eye
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On July 18, 2020, Queen Elizabeth II will have been queen for 25,000 days, which is longer than any other monarch in British history. To mark that occasion, we asked body language expert Patti Wood to analyze these iconic photos of the Queen, taken over her lifetime—and you might be surprised to learn what’s really going on in them. Wood holds advanced degrees in body language and nonverbal communication, and is the author of several books on the topic, including SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, & Charisma.

The future foretold

The future foretold
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Over the course of her nearly 70-year reign, the much loved and highly respected Queen has become one of the most recognisable people on the face of the planet. Yet her first ten years were spent enjoying the life of a “minor” royal—one with no expectation of ever becoming the monarch. As Princess Elizabeth of York, she expected one day to be the niece of the next monarch and a first cousin of the next monarch after that.

All that changed in 1936, when King George V died, leaving the throne to King Edward VIII, who abdicated less than a year later, effectively moving the line of succession to Elizabeth’s father and his heirs. By October 1940, when this photo was taken of Elizabeth and her four-years-younger sister, Princess Margaret—addressing the children of what was then the British Empire by radio during World War II—both Elizabeth and Margaret appear well aware of Elizabeth’s future as queen, Wood tells Reader’s Digest. She notes how Elizabeth is focusing intently and fully on her script, her face is set in serious attention, and her mouth has that slight downward curl we’ve come to associate with her. By contrast, Margaret’s gaze is soft and ethereal, and her body is relaxed. Clearly, the elder sister is there to do important state businesses, while the other sister simply enjoys the ride.

The famous purse

The famous purse
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In this photo, which dates back to the early- to mid-1930s, Wood sees the young Elizabeth’s purse as an expression of young Elizabeth’s femininity and fashion sense, as well as a desire to be a “big girl.” Nowadays, Queen Elizabeth is known for carrying her purse everywhere she goes, which some see as evidence she uses it as a communications tool with her staff. What Wood sees as significant, however, is that in a world familiar with celebrities tossing their purses and coats to their staff, Queen Elizabeth’s holding onto her own suggests she wants the world to see her as self-sufficient and capable of taking care of herself.

A woman in love

A woman in love
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In this handout photo (one provided by Buckingham Palace to the media), Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, are newlyweds, strolling the grounds of the country estate of Philip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten. What we see in this photo, Wood points out, is a dynamic often seen early on in this marriage. The wife looks up at her husband and lets him take the lead. The husband steps forward but looks back, beckoning his wife’s focus. “Also notice his broad forward, uplifted gesture,” says Wood. “You can tell she is enamoured with his energy.”

Here are 13 things you didn’t know about Queen Elizabeth’s marriage.

Just an ordinary family of four

Just an ordinary family of four
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Here we have a photo of the future Queen Elizabeth, holding her baby daughter, the future princess royal (Her Royal Highness Princess Anne), and standing beside her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who’s holding in his arms the future king, His Royal Highness Prince Charles. But, as Wood notes, in the split-second moment this photo was taken, we’re not witnessing a royal tableau so much as a wife and mother fully enjoying her playful husband and her adorable children.

 

A queen not yet crowned

A queen not yet crowned
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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne on February 6, 1952, but, per tradition borne out of respect for the recently deceased king, she was not crowned for several months. The Queen’s coronation was held on June 2, 1952, at Westminster Abbey. In this image, taken on her way to the coronation ceremony, the Queen’s face reveals her mixed emotions, Wood tells Reader’s Digest. On the one hand, Elizabeth’s dear father has passed away. On the other, she is now the British sovereign. Wearing the crown and riding in a gilt carriage, she is nevertheless apprehensive. This was, undoubtedly, an overwhelming moment, which is one thing that makes this photo so iconic.

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Joy and certainty following the coronation

Joy and certainty following the coronation
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As hesitant as the Queen might look on her way to her coronation, she’s equally regal and self-assured in this photo taken right after the coronation. Here, Elizabeth wears the Imperial crown and carries the symbolic orb and sceptre, and Wood sees the genuine, natural smile of a woman who has taken the crown with “joy and certainty.”

 

A pivotal moment for mother and son

A pivotal moment for mother and son
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Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Charles, was born on November 14, 1948. At the time, he was second in line for the throne. When his grandfather, King George VI, passed away and Elizabeth took over as queen, Prince Charles became heir apparent, which came with the titles Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, and several others that are not typically used in his day-to-day styling. Although the title Prince of Wales is used only by the next in line for the throne, it is not automatically bestowed. Rather, it must be granted by the current monarch.

Prince Charles was nine years old when the Queen bestowed the title upon him in 1958. However, his formal investiture ceremony took place when Charles turned 21. That is what we are witnessing here at Caernarvon Castle on July 1, 1969. Although we can assume the Queen felt confident in making the crowning of her son as Prince of Wales official, Wood sees hesitation in the Queen’s body language. However, that hesitation likely doesn’t stem from doubt as to whether she’s doing the right thing but more from the weight of the moment and her desire for everything to go just right.

 

Enter: the ingenue

Enter: the ingenue
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On the day this photo was taken of the Queen and Princess Diana riding together in a carriage, Diana was still a “shy ingenue,” married for less than a year to Prince Charles. In the years that followed, Diana would evolve into a mother, fashion icon, and spurned lover, but what we’re seeing here in 1982, Wood tells Reader’s Digest, is a young woman beckoning the camera toward her as she sits tensely, but hopefully, beside her incredibly intimidating mother-in-law, who has zero interest in the camera.

Here are 12 “facts” about Princess Diana that aren’t true.

Well-established family dynamics

Well-established family dynamics
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The body language of the royal family members shown in this photo taken at 1985’s Trooping the Colour. Wood notes that Her Majesty is fully wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance and clearly not in the slightest bit interested in the mundane family drama proceeding off to the side as Charles hands off young Prince Harry (who will grow up to be His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex) to Diana, who stands visibly apart from the group. While Diana’s love for her children was undeniable, her face reflects what Wood sees as a quiet acceptance of where she stands with the royal family.

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– The Reader’s Digest team