Royal River Pageant to celebrate Queen's Diamond Jubilee will have 1,000-strong flotilla
By ROBERT HARDMAN
Last updated at 9:18 AM on 6th April 2011
Last updated at 9:18 AM on 6th April 2011
Visceral republicans might like to retain their sick bags, too. Because we have just been treated to our first glimpse of what is due to be the greatest public celebration in a generation – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
And, on yesterday’s showing, it is going to be one hell of a party. Make no mistake. This month’s royal wedding will be a great warm-up act. The 2012 Olympics? Memorable, of course, but no contest.
It’s next year’s Jubilee which will linger in the collective national memory long after the tumbleweed is blowing through empty East London sporting arenas and the Olympic circus has moved on.
Olympiads come and go every four years and London’s already done two. But only one British Sovereign – Victoria – has ever celebrated 60 years on the throne. And, as we shall see, next year’s Diamond Jubilee will follow one of the most momentous periods in modern royal history.
We just haven’t noticed yet. And that’s precisely how Palace officials like it. Yesterday, the first major plank of the anniversary was unveiled – the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.
On a Sunday afternoon in June 2012, a thousand boats of every shape and size from all over the world – carrying tens of thousands of people – will create the largest flotilla assembled on the Thames for centuries.
Much as we ignore it, we are still a maritime nation. The whole armada (cost to taxpayer: 0p) will then sail for more than seven miles through London and out beneath Tower Bridge.
At its head, in a newly crafted royal barge, will be the Queen. The organisers have suggested that a million people will be lining the banks. That, I believe, is a conservative estimate. To the eternal exasperation of its critics, the deep-rooted affection for the monarchy always surfaces on occasions such as this.
Celebration: The Queen will reach her milestone on February 6, 2012 - the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne
We saw it after the death of the Queen Mother when the commentariat declared that a post-Diana Britain no longer cared greatly for the Windsors.
Hundreds of thousands promptly queued around the clock to pay their respects at Westminster and a midweek million lined the streets to salute the Queen Mother’s final journey to Windsor. On the eve of the Golden Jubilee of 2002, the usual experts were full of ennui.
‘Palace Fears Jubilee Flop’ warned The Times. That ‘flop’ brought London and cities around the Commonwealth to a standstill.
Footage of the same ‘flop’ actually formed the main part of the victorious Olympic bid video for London 2012.
National celebration: Thousands lined the streets of London to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, despite naysayers predicting the event would be a flop
Once again, the Palace is content to let the Diamond Jubilee gather its own momentum. Yesterday’s pageant announcement was carefully understated. There was no photo opportunity in front of a countdown clock like the giant Olympic one which conked out in Trafalgar Square the other day.
There was no parade of celebrities, no pyrotechnics or soaring anthems or regiments of telegenic schoolchildren. Instead, a trio of organisers and the mayor, Boris Johnson, showed us a sketch of what it might look like and then adjourned for coffee.
There will be a similar lack of fanfare as other key Jubilee events are unfurled in the coming months. It could not be less like all that toe-curling razzmatazz surrounding the frightful Millennium Dome. This lot know how to organise a proper do.
The pageant’s chairman is Lord Salisbury, the former Tory defence minister in charge of the magnificent 50th anniversaries of D-Day, VE Day and VJ Day. And his team could hardly have better raw material. The Queen needs no hype. But even by her own standards, the weeks and months ahead are epic ones.
Adulation: Much of London's Olympic Bid video was comprised of scenes from the 2002 Golden Jubilee celebrations
Indeed, the eyes of the world will be on her for much of this frantic year. She can’t even enjoy a quiet birthday. In just over a fortnight, her 85th falls on Maundy Thursday. It also happens to be the year when the annual Royal Maundy service reverts to Westminster Abbey, as it does once a decade.
Live on BBC1, it will serve as a pre-wedding dress rehearsal for the Abbey but it will be a more demanding affair for the Queen.
She will process up and down the Abbey several times meeting 170 deserving pensioners and handing them all their commemorative Maundy money.
Head of the fleet: The Queen will be at the head of the flotilla for the River Thames celebrations marking her anniversary
The following week, she hosts a marriage service for 2,000 and two wedding receptions.
True, she has no shortage of staff. But few families have weddings with 2.5billion people watching.
More fretful still, however, will be what comes next – one of the most significant and sensitive state visits of this or any other reign.
No British monarch has ever set foot in the Republic of Ireland.
Indeed, it is a full century since George V visited Dublin, back in the days when it was still part of the United Kingdom.
It will be a tour wreathed in difficult symbolism and security headaches. The pressures are self-evident.
Yet, less than a week later, she and her household must lay on the luminous spectacle of a full state welcome back at Buckingham Palace.
This, too, will also be one the most important incoming state visits for many years.
President Obama and the First Lady are coming to stay and the Government will look to the Queen to lay on the processions, the banquet and the charm.
On top of all this, she has the full summer schedule of investitures, awaydays, four garden parties (and tea for 34,000) and the usual relocation of the court to Edinburgh. This year, though, there are two more big family events to come: Prince Philip’s 90th birthday in June and the wedding of Zara Phillips in July.
Come the autumn, the Queen and Prince Philip will then fly around the world to Australia where she will preside over a summit of her 54-nation Commonwealth.
She has been doing this sort of thing for so long that we tend to take it for granted.
Even so, to have such a run of major royal milestones in quick succession is extremely rare. To place them all on the shoulders of a woman of 85 is extraordinary.
That is why the penny is starting to drop. Like the Victorians in 1897, we are suddenly waking up to the fact that we do not just have a monarch to be proud of.
We are actually living through the reign of one of the most phenomenal sovereigns in history.
No doubt, some of the usual voices will greet the Jubilee with either a yawn or a patronising snigger.
But I have no doubt that they will be baffled, as usual, by the millions who will turn out to see history sailing by.
The crowds won’t just be there to witness a great spectacle. This is also an event which appeals to our innate sense of history.
Just ask yourself this. What would you rather tell future generations about that memorable summer of 2012: the day you saw Queen Elizabeth the Second sail through London on her Diamond Jubilee – or the day you watched the Olympic badminton?
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373628/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Royal-River-Pageant-1-000-strong-flotilla.html#ixzz1IjeUIeJX