Jhe Jubilee long weekend was heralded by images of the Queen’s 70th birthday projected onto the sarsens of Stonehenge, the only other tourist attraction of comparable consistency. It will end tomorrow with the 260-year-old golden royal state coach parading through the mall without its most familiar occupant, but with scenes of its unprecedented reign projected onto the car windows. The Queen traveled in this coach to her wedding and coronation, waved it to her Silver and Golden Jubilee processions; there will be poignant symbolism in moving forward without it.
It’s been a long time since she was a dancing queen, but her presence at the Jubilee celebration is somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Abbatars’ currently entertaining audiences at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. She was both there and not there.
Among the celebrations – whether it’s the bursting of patriotic prosecco on the Mall or the sinking of countless Jubilee lagers across the country; the high notes of St Paul’s choristers or the thud of We Will Rock You outside the Palace – it was also part of a long goodbye that began with her lonely presence at Prince Philip’s funeral last year. The palace has a private lexicon of euphemism for the difficulties of what Sadiq Khan called “a 24/7 job at 96”. The queen’s understandable withdrawal from her own party is explained first by “mobility problems” and then by her “felt discomfort”.
Her absence tested the institution’s greatest challenge: the monarchy’s continued ability to attract flag-waving crowds and vast television audiences without her. If there’s one saving grace in having a family chosen as the flag bearer of the state, it’s that they never get old. Within minutes of receiving the salute from her Household Cavalry, the Queen looked weary next to her ‘young’ husband, the Duke of Kent, 86. She found her smile again in the role of great-grandmother to Louis in her sailor suit, as a large crowd cheered the Red Arrows flypast.
Green Park Thursday has been recast in red, white and blue. The picnickers had little interest in debating the future of the institution. Young and old had the same lines: “She always puts the country first, and always will, unlike politicians”; “During all these years, she has never taken the wrong foot”; “We had to come from [Kent, Somerset, Wales, Scotland … ] just to show how much she is loved”. The scandal of her second son in general “makes me sad, she’s an old lady, she doesn’t need it”. And the pantomime had a predictable villain: “Harry was wonderful until he married this dreadful woman.”
I watched the parade of color from the galleries set up in front of the palace. The rest of the crowd were former soldiers of the British Legion, for whom thoughts of Queen and country are movingly linked to the finest hours. “No other country can do this,” I kept hearing, as we watched men in gold braid on horses, wearing snorkels, pass by. Quotes listened to: “Oh, she will exceed the 72 years of Louis XIV, no problem” and “Those red coats always remind me of this scene in Zulu.”
Another widespread belief, which the whole world was watching, was confirmed to some extent in the press tent. Two Brazilian journalists insisted that this incredibly regimented version of carnival was big news in Rio. The Europeans were in the grip of the images, partly “because of the contrast with Boris”. Not all media were as drunk on patriotism as ours, of course. The New York Times balanced her report with an article about Graham Smith, campaign leader for the Republic movement, stating the obvious: “She was given the job for life when she was 25, and she’s still alive 70 years later, so she still has the job.”
Part of that job, as this weekend reminded us, was that the Queen is a rather unlikely firestarter. The parties have had a shameful name in the national conversation in recent months, but here is finally one that no one should be embarrassed about.
The capital, after a few years of isolation and gloom, was full to bursting; the Tower of London’s ‘Superbloom’, 20 million wildflower seeds planted in the spring, had begun to bloom. There were jousts at Hampton Court Palace and an ‘alternative’ Royal Command Performance involving a projection of Gun, the Sex Pistols series by Danny Boyle, at the South Bank. (With Johnny Rotten on one side of the river and Elton John, Diana Ross and Duran Duran on the other, the jubilee party provided a faithful recreation of the costumes from the chart wars of 1977-1982.)
Apart from her brief appearances – and her trademark ubiquity on everything from paper cups to tube lines – the Queen’s official contribution to the national kneeling involved a simple statement: “I know that many happy memories will be created during of these festive occasions.
And memory, of course, is what it’s all about. There was a jarring note when the Prime Minister, with half a haircut, stood in St Paul’s Cathedral to give a brief sermon on the virtues of truth, but he still knows he is onto something when he makes his goofy pleas for restoration. imperial measurements. How else to understand this strain of the nation that still appreciates nothing more than glimpsing hereditary princes greeted on the steps of the cathedral by a cast of characters who, to less reverent eyes, seem to be assembled from am -Gilbert and Sullivan drams matched? “The scarlet coats have lasted well,” David Dimbleby told the nation, with due respect. “They were made in 1935 for George V’s Jubilee.”
The scene, and everything that followed, also revealed that Britain’s insatiable love affair with nostalgia, and with any excuse for a party, still lives on. It was fitting that the jubilee took place on the very day of the news that the BBC would continue to broadcast marine forecasts despite the disappearance of its longwave service. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations noted that its members, with their digital weather gadgets, have not relied on the information for decades. Still, that didn’t mean they didn’t want Fisher and Dogger and German Bight’s national lullaby to continue: “It’s a link to other times, other people, other places.”
For those who watched this Shakespearean call from the Dukes, Gloucesters and Wessexes, looking sideways at St Paul on Friday, the call was similar. The most dramatic images involved the murmur of the congregation in the wake of the Sussexes advancing down the aisle, a dozen fascinators bowing to whisper. On TV, the BBC director quickly cut to the aerial view of the cathedral’s mosaic floor. “We now await the arrival of Prince Harry’s brother and father,” Dimbleby intoned.
In the Queen’s absence, the thanksgiving service gave an indication of how the palace sees things going in the years to come. The aisle distinguished Charles and Camilla from William and Kate. Harry and Meghan were suddenly behind even the Linleys in processional order, sharing a cheeky pew with Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, whose father (Covid being the least of his problems) has now joined their mother in perpetual royal purdah. The camera angle that could capture both Meghan and Kate will have to wait for future series of The Crown.
Having, as a thousand vox-pop reminiscences recalled, invented television with her coronation, the Queen was apparently watching at home with all of us. Less, as the Archbishop of York observed, “in the saddle” than in a favorite chair. We don’t know his bespectacled thoughts on the jubilee. It is, of course, in our denominational age, one of the remarkable and strange aspects of his deeply devoted 70 years that we do not know his private thoughts on anything. But watching her for even the few minutes she appeared in public, you got the sense that she could have quietly wished all the fuss hadn’t lasted so long. And maybe that particular feeling wasn’t limited to this weekend.
Two of the week’s tributes came close to capturing something of the unique service and weirdness of his life. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s beautifully judged poem, Queenhood, addressed the formidable anxiety of the beginning: “Draped and adorned, a monarch marches forward/in the lateral time of years to come.”
The other notable portrait came in Notting Hill the posthumously published meditation by director Roger Michell, Elizabeth: a multi-part portrait, which plays in theaters and live this week. His film, cut with fictional footage, historical scenes and private snippets, captures some of the surreal choreography, the sheer tirelessness of a million royal handshakes, smiles and waves of white gloves.
This weekend reminded us that the muscle memory of this role has not yet disappeared – the bunting could still score a self-addressed centenary telegram in four years – but also that the magic act will never be the same. without her.