Saturday, February 24

Platinum jubilee pageant mixes British eccentricity with a touch of chaos | John Crace

Forget Diana Ross, Rod Stewart and Elton John phoning in an appearance from abroad. It was always going to be a hard act to follow Paddington Bear and the corgi light show at Saturday night’s party at the palace. But the royal family had decided that there had to be four days of platinum jubilee celebrations, and so the show had to go on. This time to a pageant that at times looked as if it had been organized by Prince Edward for It’s a Royal Knockout.

The BBC’s coverage began an hour and a half early at 1pm and presenter Kirsty Young initially looked as if she could not face another day of having to ask random guests about why the monarchy was so important both to them and the nation. She had already heard just about every possible answer, most of which were variations on duty, service and no one having come up with anything better.

But Young is a class act – I’ve missed her while she’s been ill – and she soon got into gear, somehow teasing the best out of the most unlikely of people. Cliff Richard, looking at least half his age and wearing a hideous union jack blazer, initially sounded rather miffed not to have been invited to play at the gig the night before and to be demoted to a bit part on a bus, but Young coaxed him into smiling at his incoherence on meeting the Queen. She then got Len Goodman to reveal that his nan had had a corgi named Brenda. Seriously. The only person to prove charm-resistant was Sebastian Coe. But then he has always been insufferable.

With the rain holding off – the weather had had second thoughts about declaring itself a diehard republican – the show got under way with the gold state coach that had been used for the coronation back in 1953 being pulled up the Mall. It then passed in front of the royal box, where Prince Charles stood to take the salute of a hologram of his mother aged 26 in the back of the carriage. A truly surreal moment. Though not as weird as if the Queen had been well enough to attend and had had to wave to a digital version of her younger self.

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Still no one in the stands seemed to think there was anything odd about it. Or if they did, they kept quiet. Then the audience seemed more silent than over the past few days, as if they too were all partied out and had said all they wanted about the royal family already. The numerous empty seats went completely unremarked upon by Clare Balding and the other commentators and no one could even be bothered to boo Boris Johnson this time round. That level of apathy.

The next 40 minutes were a bit of a struggle all round as various members of the armed services marched past. It was like Thursday’s mind-numbing trooping the color with all the fun bits taken out. The commentary reached desperation stakes with the highlight being an anecdote about royal marines polishing their pith helmets with Blanco for the coronation and getting their faces and uniforms covered in white paint. Balding then insisted that Tom Cruise did all his own stunts on him, which presumably means he can fly supersonic jets and land them on aircraft carriers. At this, the military band started playing what sounded like Advance Australia Fair. Which was random.

Things picked up with a procession of bicycles from the 1950s to the present day – I really wanted a Raleigh Chopper in the early 1970s – and then we got a series of buses representing each decade of the Queen’s reign. Cliff appeared with Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men on the 1950s bus and Lulu, now on comms, wistfully said: “Ah, the decade of free love” as the 1960s bus went past. Though it was a highly selective take on what each decade had to offer. No one seemed to have noticed that the 1950s was a time of rationing and the 1970s was the era of the three-day week. Aids, the financial crash, austerity, Brexit and food banks also didn’t get a mention. I’m sure it was just an oversight.

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Thereafter things rather fell apart as the parade lapsed into near chaos. Or to give it a more positive spin, this was Britain unwinding after being on its best behavior for three days and indulging its eccentricity to the max. It looked like a carnival that was far more fun to participate in than to actually watch. Not that it didn’t have its charms. There was diversity aplenty with an Indian wedding, a whole load of African wildlife puppets, farmyard animals and some dancing flowers.

There was also a Lady Godiva from Coventry with her top on, thankfully, and a princess and a dragon that apparently represented the Queen’s “wisdom personified”. Over my head, that one. My favorites were the toy corgis that were suitably badly behaved and darted around the Mall as if they were out of their heads on magic mushrooms. It doesn’t matter. We were repeatedly told that everyone in the Commonwealth loved Britain and the Queen. At no time did anyone attempt to address Britain’s difficult history of empire. This was a white-washed island story. One for the biscuit tins.

“The rest of the world will be in awe of us watching this,” said one commentator, hyperventilating on laughing gas. This wasn’t a country celebrating its monarch so much as one making a virtue of its own collective psychosis. Maybe that’s even what the royal family have come to represent at the end of the day. Because up in the royal box, all the royal family seemed to be having a real blast. The more dysfunctional the parade got, the more they seemed to like it. Charles was beaming and even the buttoned-up Princess Anne was laughing and clapping along.

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A quick number from Ed Sheeran rounded things off and then the Queen appeared briefly on the Buck House balcony along with Charles and Camilla and the Cambridge family. She managed a quick smile before hurrying indoors as soon as possible. Was this the jubilee she had always wanted for herself? No one would ever know. But then she’s spent a lifetime not giving much away.

It did feel like the end of an era, though. That things will have to change when Charles becomes king. That the country’s pact with the Queen does not extend to the rest of her family. There again, we could all be back in four years’ time for the Queen’s 100th birthday party. And the year after that for the second diamond jubilee.

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