The life and times of Queen Elizabeth

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First aired on Here and Now (9/2/12)

Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating 60 years as the British monarch in 2012. That's 60 years of governance, 60 years of living a public life and 60 years of not giving media interviews. The result is that everyone knows who the Queen is, but few know exactly what she's like.

New York Times bestselling biographer Sally Bedell Smith is trying to change that. Her latest book, Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, offers an intimate portrait of woman who takes her job very seriously, Bedell Smith had unprecedented access for an unofficial biographer: she's met the Queen at private functions on three separate occasions, each which resulted in "quite fascinating little exchanges" that revealed "little flashes" of the Queen's private self. She also spoke with the Queen's friends, family members and former employees, which allowed Bedell Smith to "able to get a better sense of how she goes about her job."

One aspect of the Queen's job is being the monarch of Canada, a role the Queen takes very seriously, according to Bedell Smith. The Queen has been to Canada 25 times, her son Andrew was (briefly) educated here, her first major trip as a member of the Royal Family was to Canada, an epic journey that makes William and Catherine's 2011 nine-day trip look paltry: Elizabeth and her new husband Philip covered 10,000 miles and 70 stops in 35 days back in 1951.

Despite her position of power, the Queen is a very practical person, Bedell Smith reveals. You only have to look inside her handbag for proof of this. At any given event, the Queen will be carrying "a little coin purse, make-up, sweetener for her coffee, reading glasses, tissues [and] lozenges for her throat." However, no one spotted any personal identification. Probably because the Queen doesn't need it.

After all, "she is the most public person in the world."

Into the Silence cover.jpgElizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch
by Sally Bedell Smith

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From the publisher:

"Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, Elizabeth the Queen is a close-up view of a woman we've known only from a distance, illuminating the lively personality, sense of humor, and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations. It is also a fascinating window into life at the center of the last great monarchy."

Read more at Random House Canada.