Britain is gearing up for a long weekend of pageantry, processions, parties and prayers to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
The occasion marks 70 years on the throne for the monarch. But behind the official and unofficial celebrations lies a drive to show that the royal family still remains relevant after seven decades of change.
“The monarchy is not elected, so the only way in which a monarch can demonstrate consent is not through the ballot box, but through people turning out on the streets,” said Robert Lacey, historical adviser for the hit Netflix TV series “The Crown″. “If the monarch turns up on the balcony and waves and there’s no one there, that’s a pretty definitive judgment on the monarchy.
“Well, when it comes to Elizabeth, the opposite has been the case. People can’t wait to mass and cheer together.”
The royals, sometimes criticized as out of touch with modern Britain, want to show that their support comes from all parts of a society that has become more multicultural due to immigration from the Caribbean, South Asia and more recently Eastern Europe.
As part of the jubilee pageant, dancers from London’s African-Caribbean community will don costumes of giant flamingos, zebras and giraffes to re-imagine the moment in 1952 when Princess Elizabeth learned she had become queen while visiting a game park in Kenya.
Another group will recall the Queen’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip and celebrate weddings as they take place across the Commonwealth with Bollywood-style dancing.
The jubilee is also an opportunity for the royals to demonstrate their outward commitment to change and diversity, something the Queen has tried to embody as she travelled the world over the last 70 years.
Emily Nash, royal editor of the UK’s HELLO! magazine, said: “She’s been everywhere and she has engaged with people from all walks of life, from all creeds, colours and faiths.
“I think it’s easy to see, in the sort of pomp and pageantry, perhaps, more of a lack of diversity. But if you look at what the royal family actually do, the people they engage with, the places they go, I think it’s perhaps a little unfair to say that it’s not as diverse as it could be.”
Events to capture public attention
If the depleted stock at the Cool Britannia gift shop is any indication, the jubilee has been the cause of some excitement. The shop around the corner from Buckingham Palace has run out of Platinum Jubilee tea towels. Spoons are sparse. Mugs are in short supply.
And it’s not just foreign tourists who are buying all things Elizabeth II. Visitors from across the UK are also hunting for jubilee mementos, said Ismayil Ibrahim, the man behind the counter.
“It’s a very special year,” he said. “They’re celebrating it as a big event.”
The question for the House of Windsor is whether royalists will transfer their love for the Queen to her son and heir, Prince Charles, when the time comes.
It is a problem that stems, in part, from the Queen’s unprecedented long reign: the longest in British history. The only monarch most people have ever known, she has become synonymous with the monarchy itself.
After taking on the throne after the death of her father on February 6, 1952, Elizabeth became a symbol of stability as the country negotiated the end of Empire, the birth of the information age and the waves of immigration that transformed Britain into a multicultural society.
The shy woman with the small handbag, trailing corgis and a passion for horses presided over an era that spawned Monty Python, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. People who thought they knew her thought wrong – as evidenced by her star turn as a Bond Girl at the 2012 London Olympics.
Through it all, the Queen has built up a bond with the nation through a seemingly endless series of public appearances as she opened libraries, dedicated hospitals and bestowed honours on deserving citizens.
Challenges for an ageing monarch
The past two years have been pivotal, as the Queen alternately consoled a nation isolated by COVID-19 and thanked doctors and nurses battling the disease.
But the monarchy’s frailties were also on display as the 96-year-old buried her husband, Prince Philip, and was slowed by health problems that forced her to turn over important public duties to Charles.
That came amid all-too-public tensions with Prince Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, who made allegations of racism and bullying in the royal household, and sordid allegations about her son Prince Andrew’s links to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Against this backdrop, the jubilee is also part of an effort to prepare the public for the day when Charles takes the throne. Now 73, Charles has spent much of his life preparing to be king while retaining a stuffy image that wasn’t helped by his ugly divorce from Princess Diana.
Charles will reportedly play a key role during the first event of the jubilee weekend, taking the salute of passing soldiers during the annual military review known as Trooping the Colour. The Queen will attend the more than 400-year-old ceremony that marks her official birthday if she feels up to it, but will decide on the day.
Elizabeth, who only recently recovered from COVID-19 and has begun using a walking stick, has given Charles an increasingly important role as the public face of the monarchy.
Earlier this month, he stood in for his mother when what the palace describes as “episodic mobility problems” prevented her from presiding over the state opening of Parliament.
Still, in the days afterward, she turned up at a horse show, opened a London Underground line named after her, and toured the Chelsea Flower Show in a chauffeur-driven golf cart.
“There is no blueprint for a reign of this length and, subsequently, I think the palace and courtiers are having to improvise all the time,” said Ed Owens, a royal historian and author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.”
“In the case of Elizabeth II, we haven’t had a monarch this elderly who has reigned for so long and is so meaningful to so many people having to essentially transfer her role to the next in line.”