Britain has changed a lot under Queen Elizabeth II, but she has not


London — She was a serious and demure young woman who ascended the throne at age 25 in a ceremony dripping in splendor, but Queen Elizabeth II‘s country in the early 1950s was still mired in post-war poverty.

Sir Paul McCartney and best-selling author Tina Brown reflect on Queen Elizabeth’s unprecedented reign in “Her Majesty The Queen: A Gayle King Special.” The special airs on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Thursday, June 2 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and will stream on the CBS News app and Paramount+ on Friday, June 3.

“Britain was a bit stuck-up. Britain was all about hierarchy and deference and respect,” Professor Anna Whitelock, a historian and expert on the British monarch, told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Holly Williams.

Within a decade of her coronation, however, Britain was in the grip of the Swinging ’60s, and the queen became the first British monarch to bestow royal honors on rock stars like The Beatles.

“I mean, literally, the queen at the beginning of her reign would be sending telegrams, and now she’s sending tweets,” Whitelock said.

The British monarchy is over 1,000 years old, but during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign — a new “Elizabethan Age” — the U.K. has been through wrenching, joyful, painful and extraordinary change.

The face of Britain, and of Britons, has been transformed with new arrivals from all over the world, many of whom faced terrible prejudice from the moment they arrived on U.K. soil.

“There was a lot of racism, and I was very aware that I was not the right color, or from the right— I wasn’t White. I didn’t completely fit in,” said Omid Djalili, an actor and comedian who grew up in an Iranian-British immigrant family in London. “I was a victim of White privilege in the sense that I was made to feel that,  ‘We’ve got Alex and we’ve got Rebecca and we’ve got Oh-mid‘ — they never got my name right. I just thought that’s just the way it is. I accepted it.”

But Djalili says the queen has somehow managed to rise above conflict and controversy, and appeal even to many of those in Britain who are anti-establishment.

“She was true to her word from 70 years ago. So whether you like her or not, she, as a human being, stayed true. And I know everyone who got involved with the Platinum Jubilee, everyone was there saying, ‘We’re here for the queen, because we love her,'” Djalili said.

As Britain has embraced multiculturalism and its rigid class system has begun to crumble, Queen Elizabeth has remained consistently popular, but her actual opinions have remained a mystery.

“She has been a bystander,” Professor Whitelock told CBS News. “She’s survived, and that’s almost like her greatest achievement. She’s the most familiar woman in the world. She’s the most photographed woman in the world — but she’s the woman we know least about, I think.”

In her later years, at times, the queen has lowered her guard and revealed a lighter side, joyfully meeting the Spice Girls in the 1990s, for example. In 2016 she made a fun video with her grandson Prince Harry and the Obamas to promote the Invictus Games for wounded veterans.

But for the most part, while Britain has changed, the queen has not.

“Although the monarchy has modernized a bit, she has maintained this sense of enigmatic charisma. We don’t know her,” said Whitelock, adding that the queen’s unique “mystique” is something “completely at odds with the time, and never will be able to be recaptured.”

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