The grand finale of the Platinum Jubilee was worth the wait. After cautiously taking two days out from the celebrations to gather her energy for one of the last major balcony appearances of her reign, the Queen was ready to greet the people she has dedicated her life of service to.
As she stepped outside Buckingham Palace to view the tens of thousands of filling streets and parks, the poignancy of the moment was clearly not lost on the monarch as she looked into the distance of The Mall, eyes glistening as the crowds shouted, “Thank you, ma’am! ”. It was a moment for the history books – and one I felt lucky to have covered in person.
The climax of the four-day public celebrations was just a third, brief public appearance for the Queen during the jubilee. Trooping The Color, her official birthday parade, kicked off the festivals with a military bang as people poured into central London — our first hurrah since the pandemic and a break from recent economic and political turmoils.
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Regardless of how they may feel about the British Royal Family, the longevity of the Queen’s 70-year reign has led to a deep national affection for the monarch and why so many wanted to see her. It’s what made her presence so necessary during the holiday weekend.
At the height of health concerns about the Queen a few months ago, I remember palace aides fearing she may not be able to attend any of the jubilee events. At 96 years old, her full-time role as sovereign has presented new challenges, with other royals now picking up some of her more physically demanding duties while she continues to work from Windsor Castle. But there could be no stand-in at the Platinum Jubilee.
In the weeks building up, we saw the Queen push herself as she made herself available for pre-jubilee engagements, despite the challenges of old age and uncomfortable mobility issues. Even behind the scenes, the monarch gave it all, sitting for a symbolic portrait photograph (spot the King Charles II statue in the background?) And working with a film crew to create an unforgettable skit with Paddington Bear. Seventy years on and Her Majesty — marmalade sandwich in hand — proved she still has the power to surprise.
Previous jubilees, particularly with newlyweds William and Kate in 2012, were not only celebrations of the monarch but also the institution of the monarchy itself. This time, perhaps due to the increasingly divided opinions of the royal establishment in 2022 (and its declining popularity amongst young people), the focus was wisely kept on Queen Elizabeth II’s life and legacy.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his tribute to the Queen, the jubilee celebrated “not the institution of the Crown but the individual who wears it.”
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Even tabloid drama was kept at bay. A positive COVID-19 test took care of Prince Andrew’s eagerness to facilitate a comeback moment during the events. And Prince Harry and Meghan’s presence at two engagements quietly came (to cheers) and went. Their private moments with the Queen, who met great-granddaughter Lilibet on more than one occasion, were kept exactly that. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall were also able to spend some time with the couple before they returned to California on Sunday. (For those wondering, I’m told there was no interaction between the Sussexes and the Cambridges — but that story is for another time).
Though other members of the Royal Family continue to enjoy public interest (it’s fair to say Prince Louis became a star in his own right this past week, his playful antics receiving more social media attention than all but the Queen), jubilee events without the monarch ended up falling a little flat at times. Intervals that served as countdowns to sightings of a woman who is still the star of the Windsor show.
Speeches from Prince William and Prince Charles during the Platinum Party at the Palace allowed the two heirs to give a taste of what’s to come when they take on new roles in the not-too-distant future, but one couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed when looking at the royal landscape without the Queen (and the additional loss of the Gen Z-favored Sussexes).
And this is where one of many problems lie ahead for the future of The Firm. While we celebrate the Queen’s golden reign, we are also reminded that the future without her might just, dare I say it, look a little dull. Though her successors are no doubt capable in their royal roles, the institution’s next chapter is yet to feel like it aligns with modern-day society, and our expectations within it.
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Recent failed tours of the Caribbean — where demands for the Royal Family to apologize for Britain’s historic role in the enslavement of millions of Africans were largely ignored — show there is still much work to do when it comes to the Firm understanding and connecting with all issues that matter to the world. And unaddressed racism and bullying allegations continue to be front of mind for people of color and young Brits.
As with all major royal occasions, palace aides will this week be pouring over the mountain of positive coverage received for the Platinum Jubilee. They’ll no doubt declare it a triumphant success — and it absolutely was — but they’d be wrong to start getting comfortable. The nation’s love and respect for the Queen has been unwavering. What is less predictable, however, is just how much of those feelings the public will transfer to those waiting in the wings. Without the adored Queen, this past week might have been as good as it will ever get.