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BBC grills Queen Elizabeth on birthday eve

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to the BBC on Thursday as part of her 80th birthday celebrations.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 20:31 IST

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to the BBC on Thursday as part of her 80th birthday celebrations -- and was promptly asked why Cuban leader Fidel Castro was not invited to the parties.

The queen, who turns 80 on Friday months before Castro also becomes an octogenarian, was at the British Broadcasting Corporation to mark the granting of its royal charter 80 years ago.

Queen Elizabeth, wearing a blue skirt suit and matching hat, met radio presenters as she officially reopened part of Broadcasting House in central London, the home of BBC radio since the 1930s.

The monarch is known to listen to John Humphrys' daily morning grilling of politicians on BBC Radio Four.

The no-nonsense presenter asked the queen why the revolutionary communist leader Castro had not been invited to the parties as he also turns 80, in August.

"I suggested it was a bit mean not to invite Fidel Castro to the Palace because he's 80 as well and she didn't seem to think it was a very good idea," the journalist said afterwards.

On Wednesday, the queen hosted a lunch at Buckingham Palace for 99 people who were born the same day as she was on April 21, 1926.

Humphries joked with a colleague that he might end up in the Tower of London, where rebels, traitors and spies were executed over the last several hundred years, most recently during World War II.

During her tour of the BBC, the queen was shown state-of-the-art digital technology, including an iPod, a plasma television screen and a wi-fi radio.

She was also shown a microphone used by her grandfather king George V for Christmas radio broadcasts to the Empire in the 1930s.

The sovereign also viewed the "King's Radio", a specially created version of a high quality wireless set presented to king George V.

She watched a drama production being broadcast and listened in on "Woman's Hour", a popular radio programme.

Earlier, the queen listened to a behind-closed-doors debate on the world in 2020 at Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs.

Queen Elizabeth is patron of the London-based organisation, one of the world's leading bodies for the analysis of international issues.

Baroness Shirley Williams, a Chatham House president, said: "The queen has become much more relaxed in her 80th year -- she has a lovely smile. Before she was quite shy."

"She's like a great oak tree -- she's blossoming again," the veteran British politician said.

Meanwhile, British newspapers carried a new official birthday portrait of the queen, taken by Lord Anthony Snowdon, the photographer ex-husband of her late sister Princess Margaret.

The sovereign is pictured smiling, wearing a simple, open-necked lilac blouse, a string of pearls and matching earrings.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet was sending a "low-key" birthday present to the queen in line with the wishes of Buckingham Palace, his official spokesman said.

"The nature of the present was chosen in consultation with the palace," he said.

The queen was to spend most of her birthday in private at Windsor Castle, west of London, before travelling to Kew Palace in nearby Richmond, where her eldest son Prince Charles is hosting a dinner.