To mark the 65th anniversary of her coronation this year, Queen Elizabeth proved that even she can break from tradition when she chooses. For the first time ever, she recently spoke about her memories of June 2, 1953, when she was officially crowned Queen of England. And at 91, she showed herself to be sharp and witty as she recalled the “horrible” ride in the uncomfortable gold state coach to Westminster Abbey. “It’s not meant for traveling in at all,” she said. Holding the five-pound crown she’d worn, she marveled, “Gosh, this is as heavy as it always was! There are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise, they are quite important things.”

A coronation is “the beginning of one’s life as a sovereign. I have seen one,” she said of her father King George VI’s ceremony, “and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable.” More remarkable still is that the oldest-living and longest-serving monarch in history is on the verge of stepping down. “She has a sense of duty and originally planned to see it through to the end,” a senior courtier tells Closer, “but she has broken all the records and has nothing left to prove.” With her husband Prince Philip retired at 96, her son Prince Charles, 69, more than ready to rule, and with her firm confidence in the younger royal generation, she’s finally ready to relax.

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Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

“I am told that when she reaches 95, she will step aside and use the Regency Act, which allows Prince Charles to take over in all but name,” says Robert Jobson, author of The Future Royal Family. Adds royal commentator Phil Dampier, “She wants the changeover to be seamless and feels this is the best way. No one deserves a rest more than the queen.” When Elizabeth came to the throne at 25, she was a young married mother-of-two — to Charles and Princess Anne — who hadn’t expected to be in line for the crown.

Her uncle Edward VIII’s shocking decision to give up the throne to marry his true love, American divorcée Wallis Simpson (divorce was verboten at the time), transferred British rule to Elizabeth’s father, King George, and then to her. “Years ago, the queen said she never intended to abdicate because her uncle’s abdication nearly brought the monarchy to an end in 1936,” says the courtier. Because of that, explains Dampier, “her life’s work has been the survival of the monarchy and the success of the Commonwealth.”

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Prince Charles and Princess Anne. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At home, her family grew as she had two more sons, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, in the 1960s. And she learned to balance life and work as she presided during Britain’s decolonization of Africa, and the Caribbean, and the war in the Falklands. “It’s all to do with the training,” she’s said. “You can do a lot if you’re properly trained.” That training includes staying on the throne through thick and thin. Stepping down wouldn’t have been imaginable even a few years ago, when shocking personal scandals rocked the House of Windsor — especially Charles’ contentious marriage to Princess Diana, which ended in divorce a year before she died in a 1997 car crash.

Diana famously criticized the royals for being coldly unsupportive of her. “The queen has had some ups and downs,” Dampier notes. “I’m sure she has some regrets.” But now, with Charles remarried to his longtime love Camilla Parker Bowles, 70; grandson Prince William, 35, happily married to Kate Middleton, 36, with a third child on the way; and Prince Harry, 33, set to marry American actress Meghan Markle, 36, in May, the monarchy is enjoying a period of stability. “Those who love her feel she deserves to enjoy some years of retirement,” says the courtier. And Dampier adds, “She will be most proud that the monarchy has not only survived but is more popular than ever.”

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Kate Middleton, Prince William, Meghan Markle, and Prince Harry. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The royals had a scare a year ago when the queen took to her bed for a week over Christmas with a persistent cold. “The family realized the game was about to change and the younger members were to be called to the front line for active service,” says Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell. But the question now is not about Elizabeth’s health, which is good — she’ll turn 92 in April and still rides horses. Rather, “there are concerns that she pushes herself too hard,” says the courtier. “She is very fit but every day she reads, and signs off on government papers, and meets diplomats from all over the world. People don’t see the work she puts in.”

While she’s still extraordinarily busy, “doctors have advised her not to travel abroad any more,” says the courtier. Clearly, retirement is on her mind, as painful as the idea is to her. In her Christmas message, Elizabeth said she was grateful for her 70-year marriage but added, “even Prince Philip has decided it’s time to slow down a little, having, as he economically put it, ‘done his bit.’”

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Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

“No one dictates to the queen,” says the courtier, “but Prince Charles, Prince William, and senior aides have been nudging her majesty for a year now about abdication for her own good.” It’s only natural she would enjoy some precious time with Philip in their golden years, as well as with her eight grandchildren and soon to be six great-grandchildren. “She dotes on her family,” the courtier says. The queen has been quietly easing up on her official appearances. “Slowly she is handing over jobs to Prince Charles, like representing her at the Remembrance Day service for the war dead,” says the courtier. Prince William and Kate have taken several international trips on her behalf and will make a state visit to Sweden and Norway by February. “The queen now wants ‘Team Windsor’ in the form of Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, and Harry and Meghan, to step up and do their bit,” says Jobson.

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Prince Charles attends a Remembrance Day service. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The experts agree that despite the popularity of William and Kate, Charles, who’ll turn 70 in November, will take his place on the throne as Charles III — even though that will make him the oldest ever British monarch upon accession. “I have no doubt Charles will want the job and won’t hand it over to William,” says Dampier. “He has waited for it all his life and I also don’t think William wants to be king until absolutely necessary.”

But his training continues. Kate and William moved into Kensington Palace last fall, and William resigned from active service as an air ambulance pilot “in order to support his grandmother and continue training in earnest for his future role as king,” says Burrell. At this point, however, William and Kate are dedicated first and foremost to raising their adorable children, Prince George, 4, and two-year-old Princess Charlotte, and preparing for their new little one in April. “I will fight for them to have a normal life,” William says of his kids. “I want to bring my children up in a happy, stable, and secure world.”

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Prince William, Prince George, Kate Middleton, and Princess Charlotte. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

In some ways, William and Kate are wanting normalcy for their children is an extraordinary departure from the monarchy’s stiff-upper-lip old attitudes and signals just how much they’re trying to modernize it. The queen seems to have embraced their more relaxed attitudes, signaling that times are indeed changing at Buckingham Palace. “A few years ago I would have said it would be out of the question for the queen to abdicate,” admits Dampier, “but then it would also have been unthinkable that a mixed-race American divorcée would marry into the royal family!”

So when Queen Elizabeth retires, “no one can say she hasn’t done all that she could,” says the courtier. There may be yet another reason she’d enjoy stepping down: Her own coronation 65 years ago took 16 months to plan. “A coronation for Charles would be spectacular and cost at least $100 million,” the courtier tells Closer. “They don’t happen very often and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the queen could actually watch it and see the future succession cemented?” It would, in fact, be an event fit for a queen.

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