LONDON - Ending four decades of perfect attendance, Queen Elizabeth II will skip the biennial meeting of Commonwealth leaders later this year as part of a rethink by palace officials of long-distance travel and public events for the 87-year-old monarch.
Prince Charles will take his mother's place at the November gathering in Sri Lanka, a boost in the profile of the heir to the British throne. The Commonwealth comprises 54 nations, most of them former British colonies, and promoting it as a vehicle for international understanding and democratic values has been a pet project of the queen, the organization's titular head.
Her decision to forgo this fall's meeting of presidents and prime ministers, which was announced Tuesday by Buckingham Palace, is the most significant indication yet of a determination to pare back her busy schedule as she nears her 10th decade of life. She was hospitalized briefly for a stomach ailment in March and later that month missed the annual Commonwealth Day Observance service.
"We're in the process of looking at long-haul travel" by the queen, a palace spokeswoman said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Elizabeth, who has occupied the British throne for a near-record 61 years, was last absent from a Commonwealth "heads of government" convention in 1971, the first one to be held. Before that, she attended every summit of Commonwealth prime ministers, the precursor to the current gathering, since 1953.