LONDON — Queen Elizabeth has just celebrated her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in splendid style. Her popularity has never been as high as it is today and people are now said to be planning for her Diamond Jubilee (60 years).
In this jubilee year, the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been touring the lengths and breadths of the British Isles. Wherever she has gone she has been warmly received in her walkabouts, which have received full coverage in the press, but the highlight for the British people was the long jubilee weekend from last Saturday through Tuesday. Monday and Tuesday were declared special holidays, and the British determined to enjoy themselves. In doing so, they gainsaid the doomsters and pessimists who predicted that the people would be totally preoccupied by the World Cup and were bored with royal pageantry.
The World Cup has, of course, attracted huge attention here and especially the games in which the British team has been taking part. English captain David Beckham’s foot was the top story for many days, and his house, called by some “Beckingham Palace” in contrast to Buckingham Palace, was besieged by photographers. But when the jubilee celebrations began even soccer was pushed off the front pages.
The queen agreed to open the grounds of Buckingham Palace to two concerts. The first last Saturday was devoted to light classical music and the second on Monday to pop. Over 12,000 lucky people received tickets on each evening. They were chosen by lot out of huge numbers of applicants. They were provided with a champagne picnic and spectacular performances ending on each evening with some of the most impressive firework displays ever seen in London. On the first occasion these were introduced by Handel’s Royal Firework Music.
The queen attended the first concert and the latter part of the second. Both concerts were well attended by royal family members, the second being especially popular with Prince William and Prince Harry, the young sons of the Prince of Wales. The Cabinet also attended in force the second concert. Both concerts were relayed via huge screens to the vast crowds outside the Palace.
The police estimate that on Monday evening there were more than a million people watching outside while the rest of the country watched the spectacle on television. The BBC, which organized the concerts with help from the palace, were determined that they should not be criticized for being halfhearted or smug about the British royal mania.
The really big day was Tuesday. A vast procession made its way from Buckingham Palace through streets packed with sightseers to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service of remembrance and celebration. Some of the junior royals went to the cathedral in a Windsor bus! Others, including Princes William and Harry, went in open carriages. The queen and the Duke of Edinburgh rode in the magnificent gold coronation coach pulled by eight horses. The Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal followed on horseback.
The queen’s coach was first used by King George III in the 18th century and has only been used since on very rare occasions. It is said to be very uncomfortable as the movements resemble those of a ship in rough water. The queen, however, looked imperturbable, smiling and waving to the crowds. At the entry to the City of London, in accordance with ancient ritual and custom, she touched the handle of the pearl sword presented to her by the lord mayor, who then escorted her to the cathedral. The service, which was televised throughout, was accompanied by fine singing from the choir. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon struck just the right note. He stressed the queen’s dedication and conscientious service.
The service was followed by luncheon at the Guildhall, where the queen made a short speech in which she expressed her gratitude to her people and praised the charitable work done by her husband and her son, the Prince of Wales. Tony Blair, the prime minister, replied reaffirming the respect and affection of the British people for the queen, not only as head of state, but also as a person.
Tuesday afternoon was marked by a series of colorful processions down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The first procession, as befits an increasingly multicultural society, was that of the Notting Hill carnival, which particularly reflects Caribbean culture. The day ended with an outstanding air display by the Royal Air Force.
While no doubt the critics will continue to call for economy by the royal family and for more modernization, there is no doubt that, for the present at least, the British are determined to keep their monarchy and have no wish to see Britain become a republic.
The queen has no political power and follows the advice of her ministers, but she remains a potent symbol of stability and, in her weekly audiences with the prime minister of the day, she is able from time to time to make suggestions and drop hints that prime ministers may occasionally find helpful. At one stage it looked as though the queen and the Prince of Wales were not on good terms. They now seem to have become reunited. The prince in a speech at the end of the concert on June 3 paid a handsome tribute to his mother, to which she responded warmly in her speech at the Guildhall.
It is hard to imagine anything at all similar to the jubilee celebrations taking place in Japan. British military ceremonial could hardly be emulated by the Self-Defense Forces. The palace grounds have been opened occasionally, but it seems unlikely that NHK would ever be given permission to organize concerts in the grounds and provide picnics with sake for the lucky recipients of free tickets. This would be against all precedent, and the Japanese Imperial Household Office is a conservative body, a stickler for both precedent and protocol. It sometimes seems to have moved little since the Meiji era.
Reading Professor Donald Keene’s masterly study, “The Meiji Emperor and his World, 1852-1912,” recently published by the Columbia University Press, I noted the extent to which the Meiji Emperor traveled around Japan visiting local schools and viewing local products. The present Emperor is equally conscientious, but is he really being given adequate opportunity to meet the people of Japan? Is the Imperial Household Office trying to limit exposure to the gaze of the public in order to preserve the Emperor as a symbol of the divine origin of the land? If so they are misjudging the modern world. Monarchy needs to be visible and popular if it is to survive.
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