The Queen may be one of the most filmed and photographed people in history, but these previously unseen images – taken by the people who know her best of all – offer a rare glimpse of her at her most unguarded.
They are taken from hundreds of private, home-made recordings which have been released to the BBC for a landmark TV documentary marking the Platinum Jubilee. The program tells the story of her life before she ascended the throne in her own words, and shows how the family saw her at the time.
In one poignant and carefree shot, the young Princess Elizabeth beams in the sunshine alongside her sister, Princess Margaret, and her much-loved father, King George VI, as the wind ruffles their hair.
They are pictured together on HMS Vanguard for a 1947 tour of South Africa, the trip on which Princess Elizabeth turned 21 and made a historic pledge of duty to her future subjects.
Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth with their beloved father King George VI onboard HMS Vanguard in 1947
A beaming Princess Elizabeth shows off her new engagement ring soon after Prince Philip’s marriage proposal at Balmoral in 1946
Such memories have special resonance as the 96-year-old Monarch marks 70 years since she inherited the crown, taking on her father’s legacy after he died in his sleep at Sandringham aged 56.
Paying tribute on the anniversary of his death in February, the Queen renewed the pledge she made in South Africa, vowing to her subjects that ‘my life will always be devoted to your service’.
The newly released footage, shot by her parents, by Prince Philip and by the Queen herself, had been held by the Royal Collection in the vaults of the British Film Institute.
But when the BFI began to digitize the old film reels, a BBC team was given special access. They spent months working through more than 400 films to compile the 75-minute programme, Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen.
The documentary will feature no ‘talking head’ interviews but will rely instead on the newly discovered footage and the Queen’s own commentary, taken from nearly 60 of her recorded speeches. The result captures the Queen’s early life, starting from her being pushed in a pram by her mother in 1926 through to coronation in 1953.
In one shot, the Princess beams down at the dazzling three-carat diamond engagement ring on her finger.
Princess Elizabeth inspecting a battalion of the Grenadier Guards at Hove, East Sussex, 17 May 1944. The princess was appointed Colonel of the Grenadier Guards on her sixteenth birthday in 1942
It is 1946, and the 20-year-old is clearly emotional as she has only just been presented with the ring by her suitor, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, who had designed it himself using jewels taken from a tiara belonging to his mother .
Captured on film by a member of the Royal Family at Balmoral, perhaps even Philip himself, it is a moment of touching intimacy and has never before been seen in public. Few in the Royal Family could have imagined just how important this marriage would be for the future of the Monarchy. For a long time afterwards, in fact, no one outside the family knew anything about the proposal.
While King George VI was happy with the match, he nonetheless asked the couple to wait a year, until Elizabeth turned 21, before making the engagement public.
There are other playful moments in the footage. One shows her father playing with a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Balmoral in 1951, which was to be the King’s last visit there.
Another scene features rare footage of Elizabeth with her uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, who died in a plane crash in 1942 while on active service.
There is also a light-hearted section recorded when the Queen and Prince Philip visited Canada shortly after they were married. They laugh trying to film from a boat, even though the rocking of the waves makes it nearly impossible.
A 20-year-old Princess Elizabeth enjoying a visit to South Africa in 1947
The BBC hopes the film, which it claims is ‘unlike conventional documentaries’ about the Queen, will draw millions of viewers.
‘The production team was under no illusion quite how special having access to this very personal archive was,’ says Claire Popplewell, creative director for BBC Studios.
‘Being able to draw upon the self-recorded history of a young Princess Elizabeth and her wider family – and allowing the Queen to tell us her own story – is the heart of this film.’
Simon Young, the BBC’s commissioning editor for history programs, adds: ‘This documentary is an extraordinary glimpse into a deeply personal side of the Royal Family that is rarely seen and it’s wonderful to be able to share it with the nation as we mark her Platinum Jubilee.’
Separately, other images from the Royal archive made public this weekend for the first time show how Princess Elizabeth shouldered her Royal duties during the darkest days of the Second World War.
King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) and Princess Elizabeth watching a display of gliders landing from the windows of a control tower, 19 May 1944. The royal party spent a day with airborne troops who would be among Britain’s D-Day invasion forces
In May 1944, just a month after her 18th birthday, Elizabeth accompanied her parents to spend the day with airborne troops who would play a critical part in the Allies’ D-Day Normandy landings the following month.
Gazing from the window of a control tower, she watches a display of gliders before talking to paratroopers and watching a mass drop by parachutists.
A second rare image, taken two days earlier, shows Elizabeth inspecting a battalion of the Grenadier Guards at Hove, East Sussex. She had been appointed as Colonel of the regiment on her 16th birthday.
Demonstrating the thrift shown throughout her life, she is seen wearing the same dress on both engagements.
The historic pictures will appear in the Imperial War Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Crown And Conflict: Portraits Of A Queen In Wartime, which opens in London on May 27.
lElizabeth: The Unseen Queen will be broadcast on Sunday, May 29, on BBC1.