Born on 21 April 1926, married on 20 November 1947, Princess Elizabeth was a beautiful, young mother of two when her life changed. She and her husband, Prince Philip, were on holiday inKenya; they spent the night in the Tree Tops Safari Lodge unaware that her father, King George VI, had died in his sleep. They were on vacation in a beautiful hunting lodge when the news finally reached them. Her father is the King portrayed in the Oscar-award winning film, The King’s Speech. The Queen, Her Majesty Elizabeth II, inherited the throne on 6 February 1952; her coronation took place on 2 June 1953. She celebrated her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977 and her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002.
On her accession to the throne in 1952, she became Head of the Commonwealth and Queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. The number of her realms has varied as territories gained independence and some realms became republics. Today, the Queen is Head of State of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms – Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Her reign of 60 years is the second longest for a British monarch; only Queen Victoria’s reign was longer at 63 years. This is the second Diamond Jubilee in the history of this country – after QueenVictoria’s in 1897.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations began on Saturday, 2 June, when she attended the Epsom Derby. If not a horse whisperer, the Queen is a horse lover, and owns several racing horses, though none of them has won in the Epsom Derby races.
The celebrations began in earnest on Sunday, 3 June, when a flotilla of barges, gondolas, tugs, steamers, yachts, pleasure cruisers, dragon boats, kayaks and other ceremonial boats took to the river. More than a thousand vessels travelled along the Thames fromBatterseaBridgeto theTowerBridge. The Thames is about 250 miles long, but it is the bit which flows throughLondonthat has been the backdrop of many a royal occasion representing power, wealth, prestige and pageantry.
The inspiration for the Thames Pageant was a painting by Canaletto depicting theThameson Lord Mayor’s Day. It is a stunning piece of work that hangs in theNationalMaritimeMuseuminGreenwich. And the Thames Pageant did indeed resemble Canaletto’s paintings of festivals inVeniceand on theThames. I wonder which artist of today will capture this Jubilee event for posterity. There were various artists, mostly unknown, on theMillenniumBridge, the one connectingSt Paul’s and the Tate Modern. But then the one that captures the spirit of the celebrations will certainly become famous.
An estimated 1.2 million people lined up along the banks of the river, on balconies of houses, on every building along theThames, on the bridges – fourteen between start and finish – to commemorate the occasion. Twenty thousand people took part in the event. It was a memorably English kind of day – cloudy with steely grey skies to start with, and then it began to rain leaving the pageant resembling a modern impressionistic painting. It could have been worse, thunder and lightning with gale force winds. On balance, it was not a bad day though the rich colours of the Spirit of Chartwell, the barge the Royal entourage was on, did not shine and sparkle in the sun as Cleopatra’s burnished barge may have done as she floated down theNileto meet Julius Caesar.
Perhaps, the weather struck the right note as the people’s Queen was being felicitated for six decades of selfless service to the nation. The Royal barge was brilliantly adorned in red, gold and purple (red and gold being the colours of the State Livery), with rich floral decorations and garlands, even a large proportion of the 10,000 flowers used were red. These flowers were from the Queen’s gardens. The barge sported an ornate, gilded prow sculpture featuring Old Father Thames, a pair of scaly, sharp-toothed classical dolphins – a symbol of theThames– and the royal cipher at the centre.
The royal family members boarded the Spirit of Chartwell which was moored at Cadogan pier. Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a bright red dress and matching hat, and William, the Duke of Cambridge, were received by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London, Lord Bilimoria, or Mr Cobra beer, at Cardogan pier.
TheChelseapensioners (retired soldiers cared for in a hospital in Chelsea who wear special red uniforms) made up a Guard of Honour for the Queen, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, at the Chelsea Pier. From there they were taken to Cadogan pier where the pageant started. The Queen in her stunning silver and white dress with matching coat, designed by Angela Kelly, looked every inch a Queen. Camilla wore a cream coloured Anna Valentine coat and dress with a hat designed by Philip Treacy.
The Ursula Catherine Belfry Barge carrying The Royal Jubilee Bells was the first vessel to sail through followed by the £1million barge, Gloriana, led by Olympic gold medalists, Sir Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave, rowing with sixteen others. A 41-gun salute was fired from theTowerofLondonto celebrate 60 years of the Queen’s reign. As the royal barge approached Tower Bridge, the bascules of the bridge opened up saluting the Queen as she sailed through and moored at the HMS President where the Royal Family remained to watch the seven mile-long flotilla making its way down the Thames.
Half way through the pageant, the rain got worse. It got so misty that the impressive pyramid-shaped glass building, Shard, at 1,020ft the tallest building in the European Union, loomed like a ghost in the background. Over the past decade or so, theLondonskyline has changed completely – several extraordinary buildings now giveLondona modern, cosmopolitan, international atmosphere that is unrivalled perhaps anywhere else in the world – the old and the new jostling amicably for the viewer’s attention.Londonremains among the world’s finest cities.
By around 5pm, 419 boats had reachedTowerBridge– setting a new world record for the number of boats taking part in a parade. The event surpassed the previous record of 327 boats inBremerhaven,Germany, last year. As the rain poured, an oversized pink hat on one of the boats in the flotilla came in rather handy to shelter from the weather. Perhaps, the weather was blessing the celebrations in its own way.
The British are still very good at working against the odds. A group of singers of the London Philharmonic Orchestra sangLandofHopeand Glory with much gumption and dedication defying the rain. If you closed your eyes and heard them sing, you would think you were in some concert arena. The LPO even played ‘Singing in the Rain’. There could have been more music in the royal barge, or the LHO barge could have moved alongside the royal one. Before the closing ceremony with the national anthem – God Save the Queen – the LPO played a jig that set everyone moving in rhythm, including the royals.
The Thames Pageant, broadcast live on the BBC, ended at 6pm. The broadcast began at 1.30pm but really started after the Queen boarded around 3pm. It is a pity that during this time the BBC did not report in greater detail the many small boats, some manned by disabled civilians and wounded soldiers, participating in the pageant.
One barely had a cat-nap, when another pageant started at 6.30pm in the grounds ofWindsorCastle. For a moment, I could not figure out how the Queen managed to go from Tower Bridge to Windsor Castle, change into a new set of clothes and appear at the “All the Queen’s Horses: A Diamond Jubilee” special event within such a short time looking so calm. Then it dawned on me even the amazing Queen could not achieve such a feat. This event was recorded earlier as the Queen attended it. That show was impressive too – including performances by various groups from the Commonwealth.
On Monday, 4 June, the highlight was the Concert – with a host of musicians and singers from the rock, pop and classical worlds presenting on the same stage – outsideBuckinghamPalace. The arena was the size of seven Royal Festival Halls arranged in a semi-circle. The stage had an orchestra, and enough space for all the performers and presenters. The band of the Scots Guard started off the event, which was the brain child of Gary Barlow and Lord Lloyd-Webber. They presented singers from all over the Commonwealth though I cannot recall anyone fromIndia. Raghu Dixit sang at theWindsorCastlepageant.
While I would have loved to have seen the spectacular fireworks live at the end of the concert, I am not sure I would have survived the whole extravaganza in the open even though the weather gods were kinder on Monday, and the stage, the Palace and The Mall looked brilliant against the sunset. But the temperature dropped substantially, it was cold enough inside the home. However, as it got darker, the images of London that flashed across the TV screen were simply breath-taking.
The concert was pretty hot featuring Alfie Boe, Shirley Bassey, Renée Fleming (American soprano singer), Jools Holland, Jessie J, JLS, Elton John, Grace Jones (she kept a hulla-hoop swinging around her waist as she sang) Tom Jones, Lang Lang, Annie Lennox, Madness (they sang ‘Our house’ from the roof of Buckingham Palace), Paul McCartney, Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams and Stevie Wonder (who sang Isn’t she lovely?) along with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The Queen arrived just after Tom Jones’ performance around 9pm. This musical pageant, for which tickets were free but allocated by a secret ballot, ended with Prince Charles thanking everybody, including the Queen, for making it all happen. Then the Queen lighted the National Beacon, the last in a network of over 4,200 lamps across theUKand the Commonwealth to celebrate the Jubilee. The first was lit inNew Zealand.
Unfortunately, Prince Philip was taken ill with a bladder infection. He had to be taken toEdwardVIIIHospitalas a precautionary measure. Bladder infections can be frightfully painful, he needed an intravenous antibiotic injection to alleviate the pain and deal with the infection. Bladder infections are not age related – it may have been aggravated by his age. The Duke of Edinburgh’s hospitalisation over Christmas, when a stent was inserted, was age related. But a stent at 90 is really a pretty impressive inning. It is just worth mentioning that Prince Philip, who is going to be 91, and the Queen at 86, both stood throughout the entire length of the pageant. And if you saw him on Sunday standing straight as a rod for over four hours in the open, exposed to the elements, you would not have thought he is particularly old or frail. The Earl and Countess of Wessex, Edward and his wife, visited their father on Tuesday, and reported all was well, that ‘he was in good spirits’ and ‘on good form’. They are both indefatigable, a quality reflected in their sense of duty and service to the nation.
There was also a rather moving tribute on TV from the Prince of Wales to his ‘mummy’. What Prince Charles had done was retrieved footage of films taken by his father and created a story of the life of the Queen. She was not only a mother of four, but served as her country’s ambassador travelling all over the world, keeping in touch with the 54 countries that are the Commonwealth. The Prince highlighted her achievement inIrelandwith her visit in 2011 laying to rest past hostilities, hoping to build a future based on trust. The death of Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle, assassinated by the IRA was a deep loss for Charles. Even after all these years, one could see the forlorn look on his face as he watched the funeral. But there was one comment he made about the Queen that had stuck with me. He said the Queen practised wearing the heavy crown while giving them a bath when they were children! The juxtaposition of wearing the Crown and bathing her children was meaningful. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…
The final day of the Diamond Jubilee weekend, Tuesday 5 June, was marked by a service of Thanksgiving atSt Paul’s Cathedral, attended by the Queen, senior members of the Royal Family and dignitaries including the head of the various religious faiths practiced in theUK– the Jewish, Hindu, Sikh faiths among others. There was a fanfare as the Queen, wearing a mint green outfit of fine silk tulle, embroidered with tiny star-shaped flowers, arrived atSt Paul’s for the service and the crowds chanted ‘God save the Queen’. The Queen wore a matching hat and a ‘chunni’, yes it looked very much like a chiffon ‘chunni’, which was pinned in place by a big diamond broach on her left, and elegantly aligned at the back. I wish I knew how that was done. It did not fly about or fall off her shoulders. It looked perfectly splendid.
After the Lord’s Prayer, hymns and sermons were read by David Cameron, the Queen’s 12th Prime Minister, as well as by the Most Rev Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Kamlesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, along with others. The Queen’s sense of duty and life long dedication to her country was duly noted. Following the service atSt Paul’s, she attended a reception at Mansion House – the official residence of the Lord Mayor ofLondon. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess ofCambridge and Prince Harry were at a similar event at the Guildhall.
All of the senior royals then moved on through crowd-lined streets to a lunch at Westminster Hall with 700 guests where it was reported they dined on salmon, followed by Welsh lamb, grilled Isle of Wight asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes and chocolate delice, bread and butter pudding and berry compote with apple sauce. There were more speeches and thanks before the Queen left Westminster Hall and made her way back to Buckingham Palace in an open topped carriage.
Prince Charles and Camilla accompanied the Queen in one carriage while the Duke and Duchess ofCambridgeand Harry went in the other. They were led along The Mall by soldiers from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, fired a 60-gun salute. The day culminated with an appearance by the Queen, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Princes William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Harry – a rather slimmed down monarchy – on the famous balcony for the fly-past.
The fly-past with 18 aircrafts including World War II aircraft – spitfires, hurricanes, Lancaster and the Red Arrows – zooming over the Palace with white, red and blue colours streaming across the sky brought a warm smile to the Queen’s face. She smiled a lot during the Thames Pageant and also at the Horses pageant. I did not notice as many smiles during the concert – except when Charles thanked her ‘Majesty’ and then ‘mummy’ for her extraordinary reign. After the fly past, the Irish Guards gave the Last Salute with three cheers to her Majesty.
The British are terribly good at pageantry – so were the Maharajas inIndia. Just when you thought things had come to an end, the Queen appeared on TV and radio to thank the nation and everyone who made the Jubilee a success. It was a two minute message; you would have missed it if you went off to make tea. She was wearing a blue dress with her memorable three-string pearl necklace that she wore through the celebrations. In fact, she wore a three-string pearl necklace on the plane when she flew back from Kenya after hearing of the death of her father, King George VI.
We had already heard President Obama’s message to the Queen. He referred to her as ‘a steadfast ally, loyal friend and tireless leader.’ I presume every other head of state also sent the Queen a message. To have done any job for 60 years is worth celebrating, to have been the constitutional monarch of theUKand 15 sovereign states is no mean feat. In a fast changing world, she has brought stability and continuity to matters of state.
She is the only living Head of State in the world who has seen and known intimately so many other heads of state, prime ministers, and religious leaders and watched over not just the fate of her own nation but that of several others. She is an invaluable repository of knowledge, an asset to the world. President Obama pointed out that she has been ‘a loyal witness’ to the unique alliance between his country and theUK‘and the chief source of its resilience’. That can be said of the Queen with regard to many other countries. And the love she continues to inspire among her subjects was perhaps best captured in a flag on The Mall on Tuesday. It said ‘Elizabeth – The Great: She is a Diamond’. That said it all.
Some economists suggest that the additional Jubilee holiday will cost the nation, detract from the nation’s growth. It is not clear why that should be the case. Isn’t Christmas the time when people spend more? Considering the British do not have a Bastille Day or an Independence Day to celebrate, perhaps intermittent outbursts of such festivities is no bad thing. It is true one cannot have such pageantry at nil cost. As another King said, ‘Nothing comes out of nothing’. Physicists will argue that is not strictly true, but I am not going to quibble with Shakespeare.
This Jubilee lifted the spirits of a tired nation struggling with a recession. If Europe manages to avoid a full scale disaster, then hopefully the UK can look forward to a mild recovery once confidence is restored and the banks start to do their job (i.e. lend responsibly to small businesses) and UK plc start to invest their large hoard of cash on real, profitable projects. The Olympics have also held up expenditure to some extent. It is time for greater expenditure on projects that will boost the real economy. Rising interest payments on debt will not usher in growth. Quantitative easing has clearly not helped.
As far as the Diamond Jubilee is concerned, we know this is a once in a lifetime event for us. Even the transit of Venus on Wed, 6 June, when Venus was observed in various parts of world crawling across the face of the sun resembling a dot, could not be viewed from theUK. It was far too cloudy, astronomers and other observers went away disappointed. Such an event we are told will not be seen again till 2117. How long will it be beforeGreat Britain celebrates another such Diamond Jubilee?