Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II looked up at her son and smiled, nodded to a gold-clad footman and stepped carefully into the 1902 open-topped State Landau. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (who’d have thought it?) got in beside her and Prince Charles settled opposite. Dark rugs were placed carefully across their laps and they set off on the Carriage Procession from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace. For many people in the waiting crowds, this was the highlight of three days of glorious celebration. Proud Guards stood tall in their gleaming uniforms, beautiful horses with bridles jingling carried bands playing stirring music. Flags fluttered from buildings and in people’s hands everywhere.
So what if rain threatened? They’d already coped with the most tremendous downpour on the Sunday, when the heavens didn’t just open, but threw down every kind of rain and wind on the most historic river pageant held anywhere for over 300 years. If the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh could manage to stand for over four hours aboard the ‘Spirit of Chartwell’ then nothing was going to stop the crowds from making the most of this magical occasion.
On that day the River Thames was filled with sea-going craft of every kind imaginable, from all around the British Isles and across the Commonwealth. Now it was a river of people flowing along the streets of London, down the Mall to the front of Buckingham Palace. The night before, singers and muscians from 60 years of the Queen’s reign had performed an ear-splittingly varied and vibrant concert, culminating in Madness singing ‘It Must be Love’ and ‘Our House’ on the Palace roof – how appropriate. The fireworks that ended the show were diamond-bright and glorious.
For many of us in this country and around the world, the Diamond Jubilee has been a wonderful opportunity to show our appreciation to the Queen who has been a steadfast, stoical presence for most of our lives. Oh and, of course, an excuse to party – which, let’s face it we need to do in these somewhat austere times. Like it or not, the monarchy and especially the Queen, are hard-wired into this country’s DNA. I have always loved the pomp, circumstance and yes, quirkiness, of it all.
As a little girl, my grandmother used to show me pictures from a huge red and gold covered book called ‘England Under Victoria’, published in 1886. In the first chapter there’s an engraving of ten-year old Princess Victoria clasping a boa-feathered hat and looking wistful. Nana told me she was our Queen’s Great Great Grandmother, something I found very hard to believe. For many years we watched the Service of Remembrance and the Trooping of the Colour on TV; these ceremonials became part of the more colourful fabric of home life. I was at Dudley College of Education, training to be an English teacher, when the Queen visited on her Silver Jubilee tour in 1977. I can vaguely remember my boyfriend heaving me up in the air to catch a glimpse of her as she did a quick walkabout.
Over the Diamond Jubilee weekend I stayed in the Cotswolds. The whole area seemed to be en fête. We went into Bath for the day and it was lovely to see all the shops decked out in patriotic finery. One of the busiest places was the Highgrove Shop, where expensive but deliciously crunchy biscuits nudge up to luxurious bath soap and garden implements for people with more money than sense. Of course, we bought our souvenirs here – after all, that ornate tea caddy and mint tin have been given the Queen’s seal of approval –and that’s good enough for me.
The Thames River Pageant, the Jubilee Concert in front of Buckingham Palace, the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the State Carriage Procession and the Balcony appearance and flypast, are all events that we can share in as a nation and as individuals. Street parties were packed with people determined not to let a bit or rain stop their fun. Pubs, clubs and restaurants had patriotic food and drink, village greens had marquees tethered extra strong to resist the June winds and there was bunting, bunting everywhere. For a short time, the Union Jack (can’t call it ‘Union Flag – not so personal) was reclaimed from the football fans and right wing jingoists so that ordinary people throughout the country could display their loyalty.
As well as taking part in various festivities including a Jubilee dinner and afternoon tea (delicious cakes) at Broadway village Jubilee Fair, I watched a lot of TV. It was a great way to see all the events – in spite of some very poor BBC coverage, especially of the River Pageant – and keep dry. Shivering in sympathy on the river, singing along with Suggs at the concert, admiring St Paul’s awesome setting during the Service of Thanksgiving, sharing photos and thoughts on Twitter and Face Book. It all helped to connect and give a sense of common purpose and celebration. It’s on occasions of magnificence and unrestrained exuberance like this that I am most delighted to be be British and so very appreciative of all that our royal heritage brings to this country.