After two brief appearances on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on Thursday, the 96-year-old monarch, who has trouble walking, stayed away from major platinum anniversary celebrations. She did not attend the Friday service, her beloved Saturday horse race, the huge concert in front of her palace, and she did not speak in public.
She left her heirs, Charles, 73, William, soon to be 40, and George, eight, at the forefront, confirming her gradual withdrawal over the past few months and the impression held by many attendees that the celebrations of the end of an era of unprecedented rule, which began on February 6, 1952 in a United Kingdom which was still a colonial empire and subject to post-war rationing.
Buckingham Palace did not say whether Elizabeth II, who is now infirm, would make a final appearance on Sunday at the parade, which featured soldiers, dancers, puppeteers and performers, which began in the early afternoon under the eyes of the royal family and the political class.
The 260-year-old golden state carriage, used for royal weddings and coronations, opened the parade under gray skies. There were projected images of the young queen. Hundreds of soldiers in British pageantry or from the former Commonwealth colonies followed.
A giant dragon and seven double-decker buses are expected in the afternoon. Corgi dog puppets, the Queen’s favorites, will also be part of the party, followed by a musical finale, starring star Ed Sheeran in particular.
Despite the sometimes rainy weather, millions of people were expected to attend lunches and picnics among neighbors and joyfully celebrate the historic reign of a hugely popular queen who is both close and mysterious, a reassuring symbol of stability in a century of great upheaval.
In Windsor, 488 tables were set in the driveway to the castle where the Queen resides, while Prince Charles and his wife Camilla met for lunch at a cricket ground.
Despite her absence from the Saturday night concert organized in her honor, Elizabeth II, known for her sense of duty but also her sense of humor, had a nice surprise in store for her subjects.
She had made a short video in which she had tea with Paddington Bear, a clumsy icon of British children’s literature. She then beat time with a silver spoon on her porcelain cup, in sync with the opening of the concert. Viewership for the event peaked at 13.4 million viewers on the BBC, a sign of the monarchy’s continued strength in a country that has been deeply divided by Brexit in recent years.
“Scent of Farewell”
The event will conclude four bank days of celebrations, a pause for Brits at a time of runaway inflation and political scandal, with a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Boris Johnson increasingly looming.
Many participants in the celebrations were aware of the historic dimension of the moment. No British monarch has reigned for so long and this 70-year record is unlikely to be broken in the future given the age of his heirs.
“There was inevitably an air of farewell to these celebrations,” columnist Tony Parsons told The Sun tabloid. “In the last few days there has been real joy abroad and in this country. But there is also a strong awareness that we will never see such a monarch again.”
The Observer, a left-wing newspaper, saw the anniversary as part of “a long farewell that began with her lonely presence at the funeral of (her husband) Prince Philip last year”.
The transition is underway, and while the Queen has no intention of stepping down, in line with her 1947 promise to serve her subjects throughout their lives, she is preparing them for what comes next. She is increasingly representing her heir Charles.
Succession promises to be tricky: Charles is significantly less popular than his mother, with 50% positive opinions versus 75%. Only 32% of Britons believe he will be a good king (YouGov, April 2022). And the monarchy has been challenged during recent trips by members of the royal family about the British Empire’s slave past.
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