LONDON (AP) – Britain is preparing for a party complete with mounted troops, solemn prayers – and a pack of dancing mechanical corgis.
The nation will mark the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II on the throne this week with four days of pageantry and pomp in central London. But behind the brass bands street parties and a scheduled appearance by the aging Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palac Therein lies the drive to show that the royal family is still relevant after seven decades of change.
“The monarchy is not elected, so a monarch can only demonstrate his support through ballot boxes, but through people taking to the streets,” said Robert Lacey, historical advisor to The Crown series. “And when the monarch comes out on the balcony and waves and nobody’s there, that’s a pretty definitive judgment on the monarchy.
“Well, with Elizabeth it was the opposite. People can’t wait to party and party together,” he added.
And the royals, sometimes criticized for having no connection with modern Britain, want to show their support comes from all segments of a society made more multicultural by immigration from the Caribbean, South Asia and Eastern Europe.
As part of the anniversary competition, dancers from London’s African-Caribbean community will don costumes of giant flamingos, zebras and giraffes to recreate the moment in 1952 when Princess Elizabeth learned she had become queen while visiting a wildlife park in Kenya. Another group will commemorate the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip in 1947 and will celebrate weddings across the Commonwealth with Bollywood-style dancing.
The anniversary is an opportunity for royals to demonstrate their commitment to change and diversity, something the Queen has embodied as she has traveled the world for the past 70 years, said Emily Nash, royal editor of HELLO! Magazine.
“She’s been everywhere, engaging with people from all walks of life, all creeds, races, races, and creeds,” Nash said. “I think it’s easy to see that perhaps there’s more of a lack of diversity in the way of pomp and pomp. But if you look at what the royal family actually does, the people they engage with, the places they go, I think it might be a little unfair to say it’s not as diverse as it could be.”
If the depleted stocks at the Cool Britannia gift shop are any indication, the anniversary has caught the public’s attention. 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 buy all of Elizabeth’s stuff. Visitors from across the UK are also looking for anniversary memories, said Ismayil Ibrahim, the man behind the counter.
“It’s a very special year,” he said. “They celebrate it as a big event.”
The question for the House of Windsor is whether, in due course, the public will transfer their love for the Queen to their son and heir, Prince Charles.
It’s a problem that stems in part from the Queen’s unprecedented reign, the longest in British history. As the only monarch most people have ever known, she has become synonymous with the monarchy itself.
Since her accession to the throne following the death of her father on February 6, 1952Elizabeth was a symbol of stability as the country negotiated the end of Empire, the birth of the computer age, and the mass migration that transformed Britain into a multicultural society.
The shy woman with a small handbaga trailing corgi and a passion for horses shaped an era that produced Monty Python, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. People who thought they knew her were wrong – as proved by her star career as a Bond girl at the London 2012 Olympics.
Yet through it all, the Queen has forged a connection with the nation through a seemingly endless series of public appearances, as she opened libraries, inaugurated hospitals and bestowed honors on deserving citizens.
Susan Duddridge feels this connection. The Somerset administrator will dance in the Platinum Jubilee competition, 69 years after her father marched in the Queen’s Coronation Parade.
“I think it’s amazing that the country always comes together when there’s a wedding, a royal anniversary, whatever the royals are involved,” she said. “We love the Queen!”
The past two years have highlighted the monarchy’s strengths as the Queen took turns comforting a nation isolated by COVID-19 and thanked the doctors and nurses fighting the disease.
But her weaknesses were also exposed when the 96-year-old monarch attended her husband’s funeral and was slowed down by health issues that forced her to hand over important public duties to Charles. This comes amid all-too-public tensions with Prince Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, who have raised allegations of racism and bullying in the royal household. and the sordid allegations about Prince Andrew’s ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Against this background, the anniversary is also part of efforts to prepare the public for the day of Charles’ accession. Charles, now 73, has spent much of his life preparing to become king, battling a somewhat stuffy image unhelped by his ugly divorce from the still-adorable Princess Diana.
Charles could reportedly play a key role during the first event of the anniversary weekend, taking the salute from passing soldiers during the annual military review known as Trooping the Color. The Queen will attend the more than 400-year-old ceremony marking her official birthday when she’s feeling fine, but will decide the day.
Elizabeth, who has only recently recovered from COVID-19 and started using a cane, has given Charles an increasingly prominent role as the public face of the monarchy. Earlier this month he represented his mother when what the palace describes as “episodic mobility problems” prevented her from chairing the State Opening of Parliament.
Despite this, she showed up at a horse show in the days that followedopened a subway line and toured the Chelsea Flower Show in a chauffeured royal buggy – a sort of luxury golf cart.
“There is no blueprint for a reign of this length, and I think the palace and courtiers must constantly improvise,” 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 have never had a monarch so old, who has reigned so long and is so meaningful to so many people, that she essentially had to transfer her role to the next in line.”
But don’t expect the Queen to leave the scene any time soon.
Robert Hardman, biographer and author of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II, said he expects an even bigger party four years from now when Elizabeth turns 100.
“A 100th birthday raises the intriguing prospect: will she send herself a card?” Hardman mused, referring to the Queen’s tradition of sending a personal birthday card to everyone who reaches that milestone. “I look forward to this debate in 2026.”
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