I might as well admit it now: I come from a family of staunch, conservative monarchists – ex-armed forces, Conservative Thatcherites. While I – and my brother – reject most of their political beliefs (which inspires some good, heated debates round the dinner table), one aspect of their Britishness has stuck with me: royalty-watching.
I can put this down to early immersion: my late aunt worked for the Queen, and used to take me and my brother as children to “Buck House” for the big occasions, while our parents either watched with the crowds or stayed at home. We would hang out in my aunt’s office and then go upstairs to watch the state carriages arriving in the palace’s inner courtyard from the balcony. There are plenty of family anecdotes from those visits, including Prince Andrew bumping into my brother as he ran along the corridor.
The Silver Jubilee in 1977 was one such occasion, so I find it hard not to think about these extraordinary experiences when British royal events approach. My children are thoroughly immersed in Andalucian culture, so I decided to balance out their cultural self-identity with a dose of Englishness. And what could be more English than a bunting-draped, cake-festooned, flag-waving Jubilee village party?
My brother lives in a little village in Suffolk, which joins with the next-door hamlet for such occasions. He helped organise this party – he also raised funds to build their excellent playground (can you tell I’m quite proud?). It was one of thousands held across Britain to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years as the British sovereign. That’s a long time for anyone to be in the same job, even if you do live in a palace and have lots of servants.
The proceedings started off with the arrival of “The Queen” and “Prince Philip” in a coach and horses. Her Majesty (take note, BBC presenters) inspected the bicycles and then made her way to the field – with its bunting-ed tents, trestle tables heaving with red, white and blue-decorated cakes, hog roast, and drinks tent with beer barrels and Pimm’s – to make her speech, which was hilarious, in her inimitable accent.
Everyone had brought along a salad, and I’ve eaten far worse at restaurants. After a delicious lunch (my carnivorous son loved his hog bap), we troughed out on cakes, tarts and other sweet delights. The paper tablecloth was even printed with a red and white crown motif, a home-made potato print. These Suffolk people do things in style.
The next excitements were the best-dressed wheelbarrows and silly hats. Big Ben won, from an impressive field, and the pompoms were pipped at the post by a corgi.
Then we had the tug(s) of war – men’s and ladies’ – between the two villages.
Lastly, after the various five-a-side games (my brother was goalie in the adults’), was the sing-song.
The weather was typically schizophrenic – sun out: jumper off; sun out for more than five minutes: outer T-shirt off; sun in: jumper and other layers back on again; rain: coat on, brolly up, etc.
That night we went to see a firework display on the Deben river, followed by the lighting one of 4,000-odd beacons around the UK.
The following day, we went to the street party in my parents’ village, but all felt a little partied-out so we just made a brief visit, plus the weather wasn’t great. Here are few pictures from it.
We all had a wonderful time – especially my children playing with their cousins, whom they don’t see that often, at the Jubilee jamboree. They understood that the parties were in honour of the Queen, which was all you can expect at their age. I threw myself into watching all the celebrations on TV, and via Twitter comments – the regatta on Sunday (though I fell asleep – blame the BBC’s rubbish coverage, of which Fearne Cotton was the nadir) and the concert, of which hula-hooping Grace Jones and Robbie “Let Me Entertain You” Williams were the highlights.
Prince Charles came off extremely well from the proceedings – his personal memories accompanying the Queen’s home videos shown on the BBC, of him and his sister rolling down a grassy bank at Balmoral; his speech to his Mama after the concert; and his surprise visit with the Duchess of Cornwall to a street party in London. My view, anyway, has changed; he seemed to be relaxed, enjoying himself and at ease among all those showbiz legends (Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Elton John). Maybe he is no longer as stuffy and spiky as he’s always been portrayed, or perhaps he’s just mellowed with age. A more human prince.
How was your Jubilee, if you celebrated it, whether in the UK or elsewhere? Did you eat too much cake as well? Is there such a thing as too much cake?