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After a four-day weekend of festivities to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, 60 years after she ascended the British throne, I thought I would assemble my thoughts about what, we in Great Britain at least, experienced of this unique occasion.
It was in a word – Wonderful!
The weekend started quietly but enjoyably on Saturday with a day at the Epsom races, as the Queen indulged her passion for horse racing at the Derby, where Joseph O’Brien had a winning ride on St Nicholas Abbey in superb June sunshine that bathed most of the southern counties. A very English occasion at which immaculately turned out ladies, gentlemen and indeed horses, shared the beginning of this royal weekend with the Queen in one of her favourite pursuits.
Sunday saw the biggest logistic exercise London had ever seen as the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, when over a thousand boats assembled from across the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world, took to the river The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled in the specially prepared royal barge; The Spirit of Chartwell, a reference to Churchill’s home in Kent, which formed the centrepiece of the flotilla. With louring skies and early rain a very grey and misty London didn’t look too special as the fleet assembled at upstream of Battersea bridge. But by the 2pm start the weather became at least dry and the river swelled with an amazing panoply of vessels harking back to Canaletto’s grand depiction of Lord Mayor’s Day on the Thames painted 260 years ago.
The event was greeted with immense excitement and approval even though the weather did eventually ‘rain on the parade’ toward the end of the event and the fly-past by the RAF had to be cancelled. But, rain or not, the indomitable people who took part simply carried on regardless – true British grit! I’ll not go through all the highlights of the four-hour spectacle as you really needed to see it as it happened, but well over a million people lined the river and an estimated two billion viewers from all over the world watched the BBC’s superb coverage on television; an absolute triumph of planning, fun, tradition and theatre we certainly won’t see again in our lifetime.
Throughout the country on Sunday and Monday some 20,000 street and village parties were held, with predominantly dry weather on Monday making this day the better choice. I joined our own village celebrations in the Peak District and was delighted to see well over 200 people turn out with food, decorations, fancy dress, singing and competitions which kept us warm on a fairly chilly 14°C day. With many a hearty royal cheer lubricated by a sufficiency of good ale, we eventually dispersed to watch the TV coverage of the BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace, where a host of famous faces came together to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee against the backdrop of Buckingham Palace – another triumph!
Among many fine acts, for me the highlight was the pop group Madness actually on the roof of Buckingham Palace, singing ‘Our House’ and ‘It must be Love’, their hits from the 1980s, accompanied by the most uncanny image projections on the entire façade of the palace – it was unique, spectacular, appropriate and hugely impressive. The evening culminated in the queen lighting a beacon with a six-metre flame at the top of The Mall. Sadly, the Duke of Edinburgh had been taken ill earlier in the day and was in hospital unable to be at his wife’s side as he had always been throughout her 60-year reign, and it was clear that she felt his absence on such a special evening.
On Tuesday the more formal celebrations took place with a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, which was, as usual for such royal occasions, awesome, appropriate, beautiful and moving. This was followed by a reception at the Guildhall and lunch at Westminster Hall. A carriage procession took the Queen and the royal family back to Buckingham Palace. Here, after a delay of about 40 minutes, during which the 200,000 crowd, under superb police control, were slowly released to fill the Mall, the Queen's Garden circle and Victoria Memorial, where the previous night's concert had taken place, as the Queen and royal family appeared on the balcony. I'm reminded of an amusing comment by William Hague, the government's Foreign Secretary, while hosting a similar occasion to several foreign dignitaries from some questionable and somewhat repressive regimes of the world. He pointed to the immense crowd thrusting toward the palace and said, "Of course here, a quarter of a million people marching on the palace is a good thing!"
There followed a flypast by the Red Arrows, modern aircraft of the RAF and historic warplanes of WW2, followed by a 'Feu de Joie'; a volley of rapid rifle fire, rarely carried out by the British Army. And with a wave a smile our 86-year-old monarch turned back into the palace to resume her life of duty and protocol, probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
But as one of the absolute constants in ALL of my life, I for one am extremely grateful to be one of her subjects, for her service, the stability with which she imbues this nation and, in this whirling world of the insubstantial, an example of that wonderful word, steadfastness. I was enormously proud to have witnessed and partaken in this weekend’s celebrations, which could not have been more well deserved. I hope we can look forward to 2022 when, at 96 years old, the Queen will then celebrate a unique Platinum Jubilee, which this lady is perfectly capable of doing!
God Save the Queen!