It’s not the Jubilee, but not many people can put their finger exactly on the difference.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
‘The Queen is an admirable person who, with her consort, offers a delightful picture of family life and of devotion to her public duties. It is pleasant to honour her.” This was our own, frankly astonishing, appraisal 60 years ago, when the Queen held the nation riveted to its tiny, black and white telly, to bask in the pleasantness of watching her crowned.
Astonishing because, even back then, I believe, the Guardian was the least authoritarian newspaper. Yet it managed to tie itself in this verbal knot – together with her family, she makes up a lovely picture of a family (if only she had a dragon, she would offer a delightful picture of a lady on a dragon) – trying to find something to admire in a monarch whose authority, whichever way you cut it, is either meaningless or freighted with unwelcome meaning, the pinnacle of a hierarchy whose foundations are random and, well, not very nice.
Ah. There’s the rub. Whatever you think of the monarchy as a concept, it is hard to say anything unpleasant about its embodiment. Back then, it was because she was a family person, who did her duty. Today, underneath the purple awnings of Regent Street and Jermyn Street, it is because “She’s almost 90! I think she is utterly amazing,” the words of Debbie, 50, from Bournemouth. Katie, 29, agrees: “I think she is a remarkable woman. You know, she is really old. And she still works really hard. It’s true that she doesn’t affect my life at all. If only she could use her powers to overthrow the government, that would be good.”
There is, regardless of anyone’s position on the royal family – and we do, on any 100-metre stretch, span the gamut: I met staunch royalists, fervent republicans, and a Polish guy called Bart who said: “I have no strong feelings, but I think it’s nice for you to feel what you feel” – an underpinning idea that the Queen’s job is quite hard. When she was younger, it was marvellous that she could combine it with a family; now that she’s old, it’s incredible that she can combine it with being old. In all the time in between, it was just fabulous that anybody would want to do it at all.
This 60th anniversary is low-key. Heraldic purple drapes festoon a small amount of central London. There was a rumour that they were sponsored by Cadbury, a rumour which I’ve now spread all over town (“I wouldn’t mind,” said Andrew Wallis, 73, “if they hadn’t been taken over by an American company”). In fact, it turned out not to be true, but it feels atmospherically true, with the decorations so mass-produced and cheap-looking.
It’s not the jubilee, put it that way – ain’t no river pageant and closed-off bridges. But then, not many people can put their finger exactly on the difference. Kenny, 39, said gamely: “You see, the coronation marks the date that she was actually coronated. The jubilee is just when she started.” Yes. Of course. It’s unusually intuitive, for a ritualistic process, but the question left hanging is: why celebrate both?
“It’s Britishness, isn’t it?” Kenny continued. “It’s a reason to celebrate Britishness.” Asked whether he would, personally, be celebrating, he laughed. “No, of course not.” I always think it’s an endearing habit of the nation that, if anything could possibly be construed as an excuse to start drinking in the day, preferably the morning, we will grab it as though on to an ancient birthright.
It’s clearly not 2012; it clearly doesn’t have the wraparound festivity of last year, when occasions backed on to each other like enthusiastic conga-dancers at the nation’s year-long self-celebration. So nobody wants to be the first to crack open the Pimm’s. Indeed, all the shops are suggesting discreet coronation purchases: union flag cupcakes, gingerbread men with crowns on.
For that matter, it’s not the same as the 25th anniversary of the coronation, either, which Knight, in his 50s, remembers well. “It’s totally different. Everyone was out, celebrating the day. There’s not the same sense of community any more. People just don’t get on as well. Neighbourhoods have changed.”
And how does the mood compare to the big day of 1953 itself? Andrew Wallis was the only person I spoke to who remembered it. “I was at school, so we didn’t see it on television. We went to a church service; we saw a pageant. It was very exciting.” It sounds heavily religious, which is possibly what’s missing this time around. “Well, yes. The Church of England is the established church and the Church of England should be in the box seat.”
It’s hard to take a view, when you don’t believe in God or aristocrats. And yet, if we’re talking about the Queen herself, she does work hard. It is pleasant to honour her.
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