Rain fails to dampen the queen's dedicated followers
IN THE end, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards, in scarlet tunics and bearskins, provided some focus for rain-sodden royalists outside Buckingham Palace.
From the moment the Queen Elizabeth’s carriage had entered the gates of the palace, the teeming crowds on the Mall were led towards it by a phalanx of police. Once gathered outside, unsure about quite what to do next, it seemed, they waited for the queen to appear on the balcony. Ragged cries of “Queen, queen, queen” rang out.
The band of the Irish Guards, which had earlier played a medley of Irish tunes that included Galway Bay, led, or tried to lead, the crowd in God Save the Queen as the monarch looked on.
However, it was a desultory affair. Undaunted, they began again, raising their bearskins in the air, which sparked a more vigorous rendition of the anthem.
From early morning, the palace had been a hive of activity, with workmen coming out on to the balcony to lay red carpet shortly after 8am, earning a cheer from early spectators. By 10am, the Duke of York Prince Andrew and his daughters had left in a royal Rolls Royce, while the queen was accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, Lady Susan Hussey.
The queen’s husband, Prince Philip, was in bed in the King Edward VII private hospital, recuperating from a bladder infection which took him out of the celebrations on Monday afternoon.
Departing after a brief visit to his bedside, his third son, Prince Edward, said he said he watched events on television: “He’s feeling a lot better, he just needs some rest.” During Monday night’s concert and again yesterday, the queen had looked at times disconsolate that her husband of 70 years was not at her side.
“She is bearing up but missing him, obviously. Thank you very much for your concern. It is much appreciated,” said the prince as he left with his wife, Sophie.
In his sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, fresh from singing along with Paul McCartney during Monday’s concert, dealt with weightier matters – even if he was happy this time to quote the Kinks in a good cause.
“‘Dedication’ is a word that has come to mean rather less than it used to. Those of us who belong to the same generation as her majesty’s older children will recall a 60s song about a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ – as though to be ‘dedicated’ just meant to be very enthusiastic,” he said.
“But in the deep background of the word is the way it is used in classical and biblical language. In this context, to be ‘dedicated’ is to be absolutely removed from other uses, being completely available to God.”
During 60 years on the throne, he said, the queen had shown such dedication: “I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others; she has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race. She has made her ‘public’ happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home in these encounters.”
From the US, president Barack Obama, a recent guest in the palace, described her “as an example of resolve that will be long celebrated”.
Following nearly 20 minutes on the balcony, the queen retired following the fly-past by the Royal Air Force, one more public engagement complete but none bigger.
The BBC ended its much-criticised coverage of the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations on a patriotic note. “Thanks for being an important part of my life,” said the actor and writer Michael Palin. “Thank you, ma’am, for being you and looking after us all these years,” said the actress Barbara Windsor.
The hyperbole has room to run yet.