Jubilee of a King

A surge of national unity, the affirmation of the country’s greatness, tradition and modernity

Horse Guards, Hyde Park © PP

Philip Mountbatten never had the title of King although in the British monarchy a king’s wife is queen. But the crucial point is what he was and what he did. He was by Elizabeth II’s side from the beginning of her long reign, now already longer than any previous monarch’s, and the most successful consort of any British monarch.

Using somewhat unconventional language, you could say that, like the Queen, he “did the job”, time and time again, representing the monarch, carrying out inaugurations and becoming patron of numerous charities.  The British people are grateful both for this and his dismissal of flummery, always displaying grace and a sense of humour, which made him popular far beyond the borders of the United Kingdom and even the Commonwealth.

Prince Philip also had his own career in the Navy, in tough times, showing great courage.  He rose through the ranks to a very senior position entirely on his own merits.  One cannot comment on his role within the Royal Family, as, by definition, this is a private matter, but Queen Elizabeth herself has emphasised the contribution her husband’s “strength and stay” made to her. The Queen’s workload was always heavy, including, for example, weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, and this cannot be stressed enough.  When the family sailed around the world on the Royal Yacht “Britannia”, the Queen was never far away from the affairs of state, and a small office was set up on board to allow direct telecommunications access. Prince Philip was thus inevitably involved in this part of Her life.

He was awarded well-deserved honours even before the state funeral at Windsor Castle.  So the Queen’s Jubilee, almost ten years ago in June 2012, with four days of uninterrupted festivities, was a little like his too. Some of the events took place partly on the sea and the Thames, particularly appropriate for the Duke with his navy background.

The Jubilee had been planned for a long time. So despite the cold and wet weather which had gripped London – ultimately affecting Prince Philip’s health as he braved the elements – hundreds of thousands of people gathered for three major events:  over a million spectators along the Thames on Sunday, 3 June to watch the historic River Thames “Diamond Jubilee Pageant” with a Royal Rowbarge surrounded by a flotilla of innumerable boats;  250-300,000 people at the Diamond Jubilee Concert held outside Buckingham Palace featuring British music throughout the Queen’s reign, from Paul McCartney to Robbie Williams, including Tom Jones and Elton John; and a similar number at the open carriage ride (N.B. a 1902 landeau) along the Mall after the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, and appearance of The Royal Family on the Palace balcony at the end of the celebrations.

The celebrations were not confined to these locations. The other UK regions (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) actively participated in their own ways, and the television coverage brought far broader coverage. The euphoria seemed to spread to every home, every public place and every pub – flags were even flown on private cars and taxis, decorated as befits a national occasion. There were festivities everywhere, including the street parties beloved of the British. The crowds, in all their diversity, reclaimed the Union Jack from extremist movements which in earlier years had appropriated it.

The country’s affection and respect for the Queen and immediate Royal Family was thus publicly expressed; the ability to cope with many vicissitudes at a time of great change was lauded, as was an attitude of dignity and modesty, if not simplicity.

The Diamond Jubilee came at the perfect time to serve as an antidote to the economic crisis, not only by making people forget for a while the current difficulties but also by instilling a sense of confidence in the population. Even if it would only be a parenthesis, many citizens were proud – as they were to be during the London Olympics a few months later – of this celebration which had highlighted the country’s ability to organise such a huge event (‘Being British makes you so special’).

The participation of the Commonwealth in the celebrations – and presence of so many leading figures from its member countries, for example during the Thames Jubilee Pageant – put the country back in its historical perspective and reminded us of the link which enables the monarchy still to maintain its imperial heritage. However, the emerging debate among some Commonwealth members as to what their future status within this vast group might be was not rendered totally invisible. In this context of a celebration very largely confined to the Commonwealth, the presence of the French three-masted tall ship “Belem” was particularly noteworthy. Charles was taken across the river to “Belem”, a 19th century, three-masted barque from France. The Diamond Jubilee coincided with the year of the Olympic Games and demonstrated the United Kingdom’s commitment to those embodying national continuity. To an extent, through their reporting “around” the celebration, the British media helped take the mystique out of’ the solemnity of the event.  At the same time, they highlighted the duality of a country both respecting its ancestral traditions and a modernity often bordering on eccentricity.

During the Jubilee the United Kingdom was reminded of the many ways in which it is still a focus of the world’s attention and highlights its diversity – for example, a majority of Londoners were not born in the United Kingdom  When it comes to the country’s relationship with the Royal Family, the daily “Times“ newspaper expressed a fairly widespread feeling when it wrote that the British aren’t governed by constitutional robots, but by a living and breathing family with whom they share triumphs and misfortunes. As a symbol of the unity of the Royal Family and the Kingdom which were his for so long, it can be said of Prince Philip that the Jubilee of ten years ago has become that of a King.

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