Thousands and thousands of street parties, garden lunches and park picnics are planned for Sunday. The amount of jubilee pudding and coronation chicken, fizzy Prosecco and stout ale to be consumed? Almost incalculable.
Britain is most decidedly in the mood for a bash, not only to honor the queen’s record-breaking reign, but as a release after two grim pandemic winters, three full national lockdowns and about 180,000 covid deaths, many of them lonely.
Celebrating “queen and country” is a way for buttoned-up Britons to celebrate themselves, to wrap themselves in the soft patriotism of Union Jack bunting, as they move past the pain of the pandemic and the endless bickering over Brexit.
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Of course, not everyone in Britain likes the idea of the monarchy. Republicans with a small “r” abound. But they really do like their queen here.
Elizabeth’s polling is sky-high. Which is more than can be said for others in the cast of the royal family (such as disgraced Jeffrey Epstein pal Prince Andrew and controversial California runaways Harry and Meghan).
Also in the dumpster ratings: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh off a police investigation that determined that he and 82 others in his Downing Street orbit violated pandemic lockdown rules, with gatherings that in an official report involved vomiting, fisticuffs and lots of booze.
Now, the country wants its turn to party.
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As images of queen are projected onto the plinths at Stonehenge and Marble Arch, her “pageant masters” are getting ready to light beacons across Britain.
Bleachers have been erected around Buckingham Palace and Prince William has been practicing his horseback riding in preparation for the Trooping of the Color, the Thursday morning military parade on the Mall that will include 1,400 officers and soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians.
The guest of honor is the only British monarch ever to reach this milestone.
The queen’s reign has stretched across a century of almost incomprehensible change. She delivered some of her first public addresses on the radio; now her remarks are posted on Twitter and Instagram.
Royal biographer Robert Hardman, the author of a new book, “Queen of Our Times,” told The Washington Post that Elizabeth has a quality of being “ever-present,” an almost “subliminal” background, for many Brits.
“The fact that she’s just there on the coins and stamps, the bank notes pictures, government buildings, even the national anthem at sporting events, it’s about her. …. Whenever there’s any sort of national coming together for a happy or sad reason, she’s usually at the heart of it, ”he said.
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Among the two dozen or so royal families left in the world, none are as well known as the stars of “The Crown,” the enduring, dysfunctional House of Windsor.
For her part, Elizabeth has signaled she has no plans to retire – her Uncle Edward made “abdication” a dirty word.
But in interviews with The Post, the people on the street are quite upfront – realistic – that although there may be birthdays to come for the queen, the next mega-event for her majesty might be the one that marks her passing.
The queen is 96 years old. Her mother made it to 101. Elizabeth’s husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, died last year at age 99.
His funeral – the last big royal moment – was somber, stripped bare, with just a few dozen members of the family in attendance at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, all swaddled in black and wearing face masks, and the queen all alone, hunched in a pew.
The queen’s own health scares in recent months set the country on edge. After a brief hospitalization, a sprained back, a bout of covid and what palace spokespeople referred to as “episodic mobility problems,” many people feared she might not make it to her jubilee.
But now that the week is here, the occasion offers a chance to look back and take stock and celebrate – without yet having to mourn.
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“I think there’s a realization that this is the last major event and it’s a way to say thank you,” said Ian Middleton, 58, an airline pilot whose jubilee festivities included a visit with his dog to a pop-up “corgi cafe” in London.
“I think that continuity is the important part [of the queen’s reign] and Britain will be a different place when she goes, ”Middleton said. “I think it will be more of a shock to the system than Brexit.”
The four days of the official jubilee celebrations will be rooted in tradition.
On Thursday, the main event kicks off with the Trooping the Color parade that has marked the official birthday of Britain’s monarch for over 260 years. This is British pomp at its best, concluding with a Royal Air Force flyover watched by the royal family from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Much has been made about who will and will not be on the balcony this year. The palace said only “working royals” will be allowed – so no Prince Andrew or Prince Harry or his wife, Meghan.
In the evening, more than 3,200 beacons will be lit across the kingdom, including one called “The Tree of Trees,” a six-story high display of 350 saplings, which will be lit in a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace (and later planted around the British Isles).
On Friday, the royals will attend a church service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, home to the country’s largest church bell, which will ring out across the land.
On Saturday, the royals will attend the Epsom Derby, a prestigious horse race, where some of the queen’s own horses may compete. It would take a lot to peel the queen away from her beloved horses, but, if reports in the Sun tabloid are true, she may give the event a miss to celebrate the first birthday of her great-granddaughter Lilibet, Prince Harry and Meghan’s daughter .
Later that evening, thousands will gather in front of Buckingham Palace for a live concert with acts including Duran Duran, Rod Stewart and Queen, whose guitarist Brian May famously played “God Save the Queen” from the roof of the palace during the queen’s Golden Jubilee .
On Sunday, a pageant procession will weave through central London, featuring acts including Ed Sheeran, who will play his ballad “Perfect” as a tribute to Prince Philip and the queen. More than 85,000 people have registered to host “Big Jubilee Lunches” the same day, though far more will be held. The royal family will show up at some.
What all these events have in common is that most Brits will be raising a toast to the only monarch they have ever known.