2011 an 'annus mirabilis' for Britain's royals
Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee in 2012 should put the icing on an "annus mirabilis" for the British royals during which the world watched Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton.
The year ended on a low for the queen as her 90-year-old husband Prince Philip was rushed to hospital for emergency heart surgery as the royal family gathered to celebrate Christmas at their Sandringham country estate.
But the queen's husband of 64 years left hospital four days after the procedure to unblock a coronary artery, fit for the festivities in June.
Prince Philip's heart operation aside, 2011 was a stellar year for the royals.
William and Catherine, as she is now known, tied the knot at Westminster Abbey on April 29, in a glittering ceremony that breathed new life into Britain's monarchy, as two billion TV viewers were swept up in the royal magic.
Another feast of regal proportions is planned when the country marks the queen's 60 years on the throne, the month before it welcomes the world to London for the 2012 Olympics.
The extremely rare diamond jubilee will witness an extended four-day weekend in Britain from June 2-5, featuring street parties, a concert at Buckingham Palace, a gigantic pageant on the River Thames, and a carriage procession.
"What they're doing is tapping into the mood they were able to capture with the royal wedding," said Katie Nicholl, The Mail on Sunday newspaper's royal editor.
"It's been a fantastic year for the royal family. The wedding really lifted not just the royals but the whole country," she told AFP.
"It has been a perfect year for the queen and everything has gone her way. It's quite miraculous. It has been one great occasion after another. Every time we've seen her she's looked so happy."
Besides the royal wedding, 2011 saw the 85-year-old sovereign undertake two successful tours.
She made a groundbreaking visit to the Republic of Ireland in May, healing old wounds, while her trip to Australia in October started out being called a farewell tour for its head of state, and ended up reviving royal fervour and melting republican sentiment.
Prince Philip turned 90 in June with a typical lack of fuss, and there was a second royal wedding when eventing world champion Zara Philips, her oldest granddaughter, married England rugby star Mike Tindall in July.
William's brother Prince Harry meanwhile did his Apache attack helicopter training.
It is all a far cry from 1992, when the monarchy hit a low ebb in what Queen Elizabeth called her "annus horribilis". Windsor Castle was wrecked in a fire, while three of her children's marriages fell apart.
Worse followed in 1997 when Diana, princess of Wales was killed in a car crash and the royals' reaction prompted public fury amid accusations they were out-of-touch and insensitive.
But since then, the House of Windsor has gradually modernised the monarchy, work which seems to have paid dividends in 2011.
William and Catherine, both 29, have settled down to married life on Anglesey in northwest Wales, where the prince is a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot.
The couple made their first overseas tour in June and July, visiting Canada and California, where they were given an ecstatic welcome.
But they will be forced to spend six weeks apart in February and March when William will deploy to the Falkland Islands.
With an eye on William and Catherine, leaders from the 16 realms at the October Commonwealth summit in Australia agreed to scrap centuries-old laws barring first-born daughters or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from inheriting the British throne.
"Kate has brought glamour to the royal family, renewed interest and everybody is keen to see where they go from here," Richard Palmer, the Daily Express newspaper's royal correspondent, told AFP.
"They've deliberately stepped backwards in the last few months. They've tried to put the spotlight back on the queen.
"The jubilee is a landmark occasion to celebrate this remarkable woman who has been on the world stage now for 60 years and done an incredible job in her own special, understated way.
"2012 is going to be almost as busy as 2011. The jubilee is going to dominate the year -- unless Kate gets pregnant."
Other European monarchies made headlines in 2011 with weddings and baby announcements.
Monaco had its own royal wedding in July, when Prince Albert II married South African former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.
In Denmark, Crown Princess Mary gave birth to twins in January, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine. Queen Margrethe II marks her 40 years on the throne next month.
Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria is due to give birth in March, ending a year of speculation about when she would produce the next heir to the throne.
Meanwhile Belgium's King Albert II spent the entire year steering feuding politicians from the Flemish and Walloon communities towards finally forming a government after a record-breaking 18-month crisis which finally ended Tuesday.
© 2011 AFP