By Rita Payne, CJA President
The Queen’s Jubilee celebrations may be over, but the UK is still ready to party with the attention now on the Olympic Games, which are due to kick off in just over a month.
There are few remaining signs of the Jubilee festivities apart from the occasional bunting, which can be seen fluttering forlornly in the cold damp winds. However, the unprecedented scale of the festivities will be etched in people’s memories for ever.
Looking back at the highlights, the river pageant was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. One has to be brave and resilient in Britain to enjoy any large public event a point recognized by the organizing team: “The River Pageant was a spectacle that may never be repeated, and was enjoyed by millions in the UK, and many more around the world. The terrible weather brought out the best in the throngs of crowds lining the river and all of those responsible for the boats, especially the rowers, whose efforts were heroic. It was a great British event, and the great British weather ended up playing its part.”
Despite the cold, wet conditions, the flotilla set off as soon as the Queen, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the immediate family were on board the Royal barge, which had been lavishly decorated in crimson and gold and adorned with flowers from every corner of the Commonwealth.
There were cheers, whistles, and waves from spectators as the boats set sail, many packed with celebrities clasping champagne glasses in their hands. All manner of vessels made up the flotilla in scenes reminiscent of a Canaletto painting: boats that had taken part in the Dunkirk operation during the Second World War, crafts from the Commonwealth, steamers, tugs, gondolas, dragon boats, a Maori war canoe, dinghies, and kayaks. There was musical entertainment as boats floated by carrying orchestras, choirs, and military bands. Jane Fenton, a singer on board one of the boats, said, “To be part of the Thames River Pageant on Sunday, June 3, 2012 in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was an unforgettable experience. I have sung in choirs all my life, but this one was very special in that we were a wonderfully mixed group of people from the Commonwealth with one aim, which was to sing as well as we could to honor the Queen. We were proud to have been chosen, and the community spirit was tremendous.”
The center of attention was, of course, the Royal barge, which carried the Queen who wore a striking white ensemble, studded with Swarovski crystals. Beside her were the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton). Kate was resplendent in red with a matching hat. The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Harry made up the core royal group, three generations flanked the royal matriarch on this historic day. Other members of the family were on adjoining boats. The crowds lining the river bank went wild with excitement as they caught a glimpse of the royal party. The Queen and Prince Philip stood during the entire seven-mile route in the cold and rain. Some newspapers believe this ordeal contributed to the bladder infection which caused Prince Philip, who has just turned ninety-one, to be admitted to hospital and so miss the other Jubilee-related events, leaving the Queen to attend them without him.
The sun shone on Monday when the focus was on the Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace. The area outside was transformed into an eye-catching stage. There were claps and whoops of delight as an array of stars such as Elton John, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Annie Lennox, Stevie Wonder, Shirley Bassey, and finally Paul McCartney emerged to do their turn. Grace Jones stole the show in a striking, barely-there red and black outfit with a crimson headdress, making her look like an exotic bird of paradise. What particularly impressed the crowd was the fact that she twirled a hula hoop around her waist throughout her performance.
At the end of the concert, Prince Charles paid a warm and personal tribute to his mother and thanked all those who had taken part in the festivities either as spectators, performers, or behind the scenes, ensuring that the activities ran smoothly. He addressed the Queen first as “Your Majesty” and then, to the amusement of the audience, referred to her as “Mummy.” He said, “I was 3 when my grandfather, George V1 died, and suddenly, unexpectedly, your and my father’s lives were changed irrevocably when you were only 26. So as a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us; for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, and for making us proud to be British.” The Prince added that the Commonwealth, through the Queen’s leadership, “has given us that essential sense of unity with diversity.”
The speech was greeted with applause and cheers from the estimated 250,000 people who packed the Mall and surrounding parks. There was a burst of patriotic fervor as the crowds broke into Land of Hope and Glory. The Queen lit the last of 4,020 beacons spread across the country. The night ended with a magnificent fireworks display, which illuminated the palace and the whole of central London. It was a memorable night when Buckingham Palace rocked.
Service of Thanksgiving
There was no respite for the indomitable 86-year-old monarch and her family. They were up early the next morning for a service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral for 60 years of the Queen’s rule – this was the climax of the Jubilee celebrations. There was more ceremony and pageantry. Fanfare marked the Queen’s arrival, commentators noted that she looked vulnerable as she walked up the steps without her husband by her side.
In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams praised the dedication the Queen had displayed throughout her reign. Bells rang out at the end of this service of Thanksgiving. Heralds, dazzling in their scarlet and gold ceremonial uniforms, stood by the door as the Queen walked out of the cathedral and acknowledged the cheers of the crowds.
The Royal party attended a lunch in the historic Westminster Hall in the House of Parliament. The 700 guests were mainly young people, those who worked with charities or were engaged in other community projects. Among them were a gardener who had lost his legs in an accident, a hospice worker and dairy farmer – for all of them this was an undreamed of occasion – memories they would treasure for the rest of their lives.
More crowds lined the route as the Royal family returned in a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace. The Queen accompanied by her immediate family appeared on the balcony to observe a flypast. With a final wave, the Queen disappeared into the Palace looking moved and surprised by this enormous outpouring of love and admiration. In a televised speech, the Queen said she was “humbled” by the reaction to her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
With the festivities over newspapers and other media have been mulling over the significance of the partying and pageantry. There is little doubt that, for the moment at least, support for the British monarchy has triumphed over republicans who regard the celebrations as more evidence of the perpetuation of power by a small elite. For the majority of Britons and residents born outside the UK, the occasion was a chance to enjoy the party of a lifetime. Our fishmonger, who is originally from Egypt, went to his local street party, one of thousands held across the country, and was overwhelmed by the experience. He said he enjoyed meeting his neighbors for the first time because normally they were too busy to socialize.
The celebrations were not limited to the UK alone. Big Jubilee Lunches were held in 70 countries, including events in the US, Nigeria, Islamabad, Delhi, and the Pacific island of Tuvalu. Millions around the world watched the events on TV and were equally struck by the prevailing goodwill and festive spirit. A Canadian viewer wrote, “We enjoyed the festivities, the Queen’s marvelous demeanou through it all; we marveled at the absence of any visible protests, violent or otherwise, in this sometimes-horrible day and age; and the massive crowds. Goodness, what could they see in all that humanity.”
The Diamond Jubilee served to boost business in London. It is estimated that the long-weekend of celebrations brought in £180 million for the economy of London as international and domestic tourists turned out to enjoy the spectacle. Theatres, restaurants shops, and hotels reported big increases in business.
Britain was able to prove to the rest of the world that although it no longer has an empire it is still able to lay on breathtaking displays of pomp, pageantry, and spectacle that few other countries can match. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, declared that London’s handling of the Jubilee had set a gold standard for the Olympics. Many who attended the Jubilee events said they were proud to be British; the cry now is “bring on the Olympics.”