They came to thank her… and exploded in celebration: The Queen looked every bit as thrilled as the open-jawed crowds stretching as far as the eye could see, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
- Latest Platinum Jubilee news as the Queen celebrates 70 years of service
Beneath a Royal Standard the size of a tennis court and 15 RAF Typhoons thundering overhead in a magnificent ‘70’ formation, the tiny figure in ‘dusky dove blue’ was not merely smiling.
The Queen looked every bit as thrilled as the open-jawed crowds stretching as far as the eye could see.
They had come to salute the first Platinum Jubilee monarch in British history appearing on her balcony for the first time in three years.
She had come to express her thanks to them in return, at the end of yesterday’s Trooping the Colour. Thus began the mighty national celebrations to mark her 70th anniversary on the throne.
The Queen had already said as much in her written message to the nation on the eve of this four-day festival of pageantry, pop, horseflesh and cream teas. Early yesterday afternoon, she stepped out to express that same sentiment in person.
Standing beside her on the balcony were those who represent today’s frontline Royal Family. Here was a line-up as explicit as any Palace statement. Its very clear message: Behold the future, folks.
The crowd – so large that all approaches to The Mall and the parks either side had been sealed off hours before – roared its approval.
Thousands of members of the public filled the Mall ahead of the fly-past over Buckingham Palace
Members of the Household division take part during the Trooping the Colour parade at Horse Guards Parade
From left to right: Prince William, the Princess Royal and Prince Charles take part in Trooping the Colour
The line-up on the balcony was 1. The Duke of Gloucester 2. The Duchess of Gloucester 3. Princess Alexandra 4. The Duke of Kent 5. Sir Timothy Lawrence 6. Princess Anne 7. The Duchess of Cornwall 8. Prince Charles 9. The Queen 10. Prince Louis 11. The Duchess of Cambridge 12. Princess Charlotte 13. Prince George 14. Prince William 15. The Countess of Wessex 16. Viscount Severn 17. Lady Louise Windsor 18. Prince Edward
Yes, they were here to see the Queen above all else. But make no mistake. The explosions of applause which greeted the periodic appearances, in the flesh and on giant screens, of the younger royals was a reminder that this Jubilee is not some sort of nostalgia-fuelled last hurrah.
It is a celebration of an institution which, above all else, stands for continuity and permanence. That will be apparent in the tens of thousands of parties being enjoyed by millions of people over this long weekend; it was apparent in the excitement up and down the country last night as communities of every size gathered to watch 3,500 beacons – more than twice the anticipated number – light up the evening sky.
It was more than apparent in the deafening cheers which greeted every player in today’s quite exceptional Birthday Parade – from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s angelic trio to the chap driving the street-sweeping machine gallantly scooping up after the Household Cavalry.
After all the ordeals confronting the Queen in recent times – widowhood, pandemic, ‘episodic mobility issues’, political and family crises – here was a sight which some inside royal circles (family and staff alike) had feared they might never see. Yet, Act One of this long weekend of national unity proved to be a triumph.
The Queen looked delighted as she looked out over the crowds of people who turned out for the first day of Platinum Jubilee celebrations
Deafening cheers greeted each person involved in the extravagant Trooping the Colour parade
Despite the uncertainty over the health of the Queen, thousands of people congregated in central London for the first day of a long bank holiday weekend
What made it entirely different from all previous Jubilees – and every other great royal landmark for that matter – was the element of uncertainty.
For all the ritualised ceremonial of Trooping the Colour on the Sovereign’s official birthday, there was a great deal of improvisation yesterday. Given that the Queen now likes to take things one day at a time, no one could be entirely sure when she was going to appear – indeed only tonight we heard the sad news that she had been forced to pull out of tomorrow’s service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral after experiencing ‘discomfort’ yesterday.
This was the first Birthday Parade since the reign of George VI in which she was not to be a participant. The Prince of Wales would take the salute. She would, instead, endeavour to watch the end of the parade from her balcony. The Palace would confirm nothing in advance, however.
Long after the parade proper had actually got underway on Horse Guards at the far end of The Mall, there was still no sign of the Royal Standard on the Buckingham Palace flagpole. Had the monarch perhaps decided to stay at home in Windsor and watch it all on television?
Royal fans cheer near Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in London this morning
There were further question marks over some of the other non-participants in the parade. Would any of the Queen’s great-grandchildren make an appearance? Would the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – attending their first joint event on UK soil since March 2020 – be a distraction?
None of which was of the slightest concern to the colossal crowds who were dead set on coming to central London come what may.
I arrived on The Mall at 5.30am to find every kerbside spot full. Out of curiosity, I picked one little group at random. Andre, a disc jockey, had flown in from Quebec just for this party. Ditto, Jane, a nurse from Oklahoma. Vaughan, meanwhile, was a retired businessman from South Wales. In other words, this was a crowd of all sorts from all over the world.
Many new friendships would be cemented before the day was out. Here, too, was Jodi Sarkissan from Philadelphia and Joel Salmon from Finchley. They had first met on the very same spot back in 2011 while straining to catch a glimpse of the newly-wed Cambridges. They have stayed in touch ever since.
The area in front of the Palace had been transformed into a giant arena, ahead of tomorrow night’s BBC pop concert and Sunday’s giant pageant.
Yesterday, the 7,000 grandstand seats had all been given to the Royal British Legion to divide among its members. Around 3,000 tickets had gone to veterans of every conflict from the Second World War to Afghanistan. More than 1,200 had been given to the War Widows’ Association, the Army Widows’ Association and Scotty’s Little Soldiers – the charity that helps bereaved Forces children.
Being from a military background, many were in jackets and ties, leaping up from their seats at the first hint of an anthem or anyone (or anything) in need of a salute.
A wall of noise greeted the first glimpse of the carriage procession. We had been told that carriage number one, an open barouche, would carry the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge. Except that, sitting opposite them, wide-eyed and very excited, were Prince George, in jacket and tie, and Princess Charlotte, in a blue dress. Wedged between them, in the sort of Victorian sailor suit which every royal princeling must wear at least once in his life, sat Prince Louis, copying his elder siblings.
Bang on time, all three dutifully remembered to bow their heads at the opening bars of the national anthem. It was a delightful moment.
From one end of The Mall to the other, the royal party was treated to the slightly unsettling new form of 21st-century applause – cheering, shrieking, whistling but almost no clapping. That is because it is impossible to clap while simultaneously filming on a mobile phone, as almost every member of the multitude squeezed on to The Mall were doing.
A few minutes later, it was the turn of the three Royal Colonels to ride out on parade. The Prince of Wales, Colonel of the Welsh Guards, came first, followed by the Duke of Cambridge, Colonel of the Irish Guards (whose colour was being trooped yesterday), and the Princess Royal, Colonel of the Blues and Royals. All three would remain in the saddle for the next two hours.
(From left) Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence, Princess Anne, Camilla, Prince Charles, the Queen, Prince Louis, the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte, Prince George, Prince William and Sophie, Countess of Wessex at Buckingham Palace today
The other members of the family would watch the parade from a room overlooking Horse Guards. Known as the Major-General’s Office, it used to be the Duke of Wellington’s study and still houses his desk and death mask.
Here, one of the most intriguing encounters of this weekend was unfolding away from the cameras. Having arrived privately, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were now to be reintroduced to members of the Royal Family for the first time since last year’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.
They kept a markedly low profile. The Royal Household may have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that Team Sussex has arrived in Britain minus the couple’s in-house publicity team.
Eventually, with half an hour before the end of the parade, the sight of a jumbo-sized Royal Standard making its way – rather stubbornly – up the Palace flagpole lifted the mood even more.
The Queen was now in place and ready to view the returning parade. Unaided, except for her stick, she emerged on to the balcony dressed in that ‘dusky dove blue’ ensemble, which was designed by Angela Kelly.
Elizabeth II and Prince Louis of Cambridge during Trooping the Colour, while little Louis stole the show, the Queen debuted a walking stick
Meghan Markle is seen with Savannah Phillips and Mia Tindall at Horse Guards Parade in London this afternoon
At her side was her cousin, the Duke of Kent, Colonel of the Scots Guards. Having both seen this parade more times than almost anyone – but never in its closing stages or from this angle – the pair cast a keen eye over the proceedings and could be seen swapping notes before retiring within.
With the roads finally clear of troops and horses, the public could now be slowly released from behind their roadside crowd barriers. They soon filled The Mall from end to end.
As they did so, the balcony doors opened once more and out came the Queen again, this time in sunglasses, to view the biggest flypast in many years. Her very evident enjoyment only seemed to increase as the tri-service display – including Messrs Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane – went on.
Spread along the famous parapet were those members of the family who continue to undertake official duties. Hence, the non-appearance of both the Sussexes and the Duke of York (now laid low with a Covid diagnosis which removes him from the entire Jubilee).
Today, the Jubilee switches from the martial to the celestial as the Royal Family –minus the Queen – head to St Paul’s Cathedral for the service of thanksgiving.
Regardless this weekend will go down in history. And many millions of people, all over Britain and around the world, are delighted to be a part of it.
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