Published May 29, 2022

UK to hold days-long bash to celebrate queen's 70-year reign

If the depleted stock at the Cool Britannia gift shop is any indication, the jubilee has caught public attention.

By Danica Kirka in London via The Associated Press

Britain is getting ready for a party featuring mounted troops, solemn prayers — and a pack of dancing mechanical corgis.

The nation will celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne this week with four days of pomp and pageantry in central London. But behind the brass bands, street parties and a planned appearance by the aging queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palac e 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, the historical adviser on “The Crown″ series. “And 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,” he added.

And 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 amid immigration from the Caribbean, South Asia and 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 around the Commonwealth with Bollywood-style dancing.

The jubilee is an opportunity for the royals to demonstrate their commitment to change and diversity, something the queen has embodied as she traveled the world over the last 70 years, said Emily Nash, royal editor of HELLO! magazine.

“She’s been everywhere and she has engaged with people from all walks of life, from all creeds and colors and faiths,” Nash said. “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 to, I think it’s perhaps a little unfair to say that it's not as diverse as it could be.”

If the depleted stock at the Cool Britannia gift shop is any indication, the jubilee has caught public 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 are buying all things Elizabeth. Visitors from around the U.K. 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 the public 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 reign, the longest in British history. The only monarch most people have ever known, she has become synonymous with the monarchy itself.

Since assuming the throne after the death of her father on Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth has been 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 handbag, a trailing corgi and 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.

Yet through it all, the queen has built a bond with the nation through a seemingly endless series of public appearances as she opened libraries, dedicated hospitals and bestowed honors on deserving citizens.

Susan Duddridge feels that connection. The administrator from Somerset will dance in the Platinum Jubilee pageant, 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 jubilee, whatever the royals are involved in,” she said. “We love the queen!’’

The past two years have highlighted t he monarchy’s strengths as the queen alternately consoled a nation isolated by COVID-19 and thanked doctors and nurses battling the disease.

But its frailties were also on display as the 96-year-old monarch buried her husband and was slowed by health problems that forced her to turn over important public duties to Charles. That came amid the 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 the sordid allegations about P rince Andrew’s links to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Against this backdrop, the jubilee is also part of the 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 and battling a somewhat stuffy image that wasn’t helped by his ugly divorce from the still-adored Princess Diana.

Charles reportedly may 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 ok, 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 t urned up at a horse showopened a subway line and toured the Chelsea Flower Show in a chauffeur-driven royal buggy — a sort of luxurious 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.''

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 to see an even bigger party four years from now when Elizabeth turns 100.

“A 100th birthday raises the intriguing prospect: Will she send a card to herself?” Hardman mused, referencing the queen’s tradition of sending a personal birthday card to anyone who reaches that milestone. “I’m looking forward to that debate in 2026.”

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