LONDON, Apr 19 (Reuters) Queen Elizabeth invited 99 ''twins'' to Buckingham Palace today for a slap-up lunch in the ballroom to mark the 80th birthday they all share.
The Queen, who turns 80 on Friday, was clearly moved by the celebrations, telling her guests ''Thank you for coming today and I hope all those of you who are my exact twins will make the most of our special day on Friday.'' ''I doubt whether any of us would say the last 80 years have been plain sailing, but we can give thanks for our health and happiness, the support we receive from our families and friends, some wonderful memories and the excitement that each new day brings,'' she said.
The guests, who all share their birthdays on April 21, 1926, were picked for the palace lunch by ballot in January.
Reflecting on lives that began in the year of the General Strike and saw World War Two as well as Britain's transformation into a prosperous modern society, she said ''I believe we can and should count our blessings.'' As three days of celebration began for the queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair led 80th birthday tributes in parliament, calling her one of the most ''respected people of our time.'' ''Throughout, as part of the Royal Family and as the Queen, she has been a reassuring and unifying presence for her people,'' Blair told the House of Commons.
''Her Majesty shows no sign of slowing down. She has just undertaken what is her 14th tour of Australia, including the official opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, she attends literally hundreds of public engagements every year and is an active patron of over 600 charities and organisations.'' Elizabeth has been on the throne for nearly 53 years and any suggestion that she might contemplate abdication was firmly squashed today by her cousin who said she believed the monarch would never retire.
Margaret Rhodes said she did not believe abdication was an option.
''I'm perfectly certain she will never retire as such because it's not like a normal job,'' she told the BBC.
''It's a job for life and to the Queen the vows that she made on Coronation Day are something so deep and so special that she wouldn't consider not continuing to fulfil those vows until she dies,'' she added.
The Queen's actual birthday falls on Friday and she will mark the occasion with a walkabout outside Windsor Castle. Her eldest son and heir Prince Charles is hosting a private family dinner for her.
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