When church cafe manager Lesley Wynne was contemplating how her street could mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee, her first instinct was cupcakes and tree-planting.
But the more she thought about it, the more it dawned on her that for St Mark’s Road in Bristol, that would just be too boring.
The lively street in the Easton area of the city – one of Britain’s most diverse – needed a party with a bit more pizazz. “We just thought: ‘Let’s go for it,’” says Wynne, 70.
In an event co-organised by St Mark’s Baptist church and the neighbouring Easton Jamia mosque, taking place on Sunday afternoon, attendees will eat sandwiches, scones and Wynne’s cupcakes in gazebos adorned with union jack bunting.
But for the residents of St Mark’s Road, toasting Queen and country is about more than just the quintessentially British classics. There will also be food from current and former Commonwealth countries and beyond, including jerk chicken, samosas and biryani – plus music from a Nepalese bagpipe player.
“We have more than 15 languages spoken at the church alone,” Wynne says. “It’s as much about jerk chicken and biryani as it is about scones and tea.”
“This is about bringing people together,” adds Abdul Malik, chair of the local mosque. “People have said to me, ‘How the hell can you support the Queen when you come from Pakistan?’ But it’s an opportunity to celebrate what Britain is about.”
At the centre of the celebrations is Tehseen Majothi, 52, who runs the local Bristol Sweet Mart with her husband, Rashid, 57. Nicknamed the Queen of St Mark’s Road, Majothi, whose family came to the UK from Kenya, is the brains behind the street party’s star dish: the special Queen’s jubilee biryani.
Served with a “crown” of fried onions and garnished with dyed rice arranged in the shape of the Union Jack, the spicy mixture of saffron, sultanas, seasonal vegetables and rice has been tailored to the Queen’s tastes.
“I went on Google and found out that she isn’t very keen on potatoes,” Majothi says, serving up a portion during a practice session ahead of the big day. “But that’s one of the ingredients in a traditional biryani. I went with courgettes instead.”
On Sunday morning, Majothi will wake up at 4am in preparation for the street party in the afternoon, where she and her team plan to serve 3,000 portions of the jubilee dish to residents of St Mark’s Road and the nearby community, for free.
She hopes that, like coronation chicken before it, jubilee biryani could become a national hit. It’s fit for royalty, after all. “For years it has been served to emperors and in palaces, so it’s a no-brainer. What better day to make biryani than the Queen’s jubilee?”
As well as those cooking, dozens of other residents have donated their time. At a community meeting two days ahead of the event, teenagers and elderly people sat shoulder to shoulder fine-tuning details ranging from where the inflatable bowling lane from Gloucestershire cricket club could go (between the mosque and the Indian restaurant?) to who would be leading the pothole painting activity, which aims to draw attention to underinvestment in the street, and how they would erect makeshift barriers to block off the road, which – in all the excitement – they had missed the official deadline for getting permission to close.
Resident Subhaan Ali Tahir, 19, volunteered to bring a golden throne for photo opportunities and put a call out on social media for extra hands. “The Queen’s the Queen,” he says. “Her character is quite unique. Everyone’s got to love the Queen.”
Meanwhile Junior Sheikh, whose family came to the UK from Kenya in 2002, is organising the music and stage. He thinks it’s “important to honour the Queen” but, more than anything, he adores St Mark’s Road. “Where else do you have a pub, mosque and church right next to each other?” he says.
Even for those who care little for the monarchy and its traditions, it’s a cause for celebration. Asked their thoughts on the Queen, Bee McEwen, 26, and Jacob Prudden, 25, respond with silence. “That in itself probably indicates how I feel,” says McEwen, who works in cybersecurity.
Even so, they will be lending a hand at the street party and plan to celebrate in their own way. “It’s a chance to get involved in the community so we thought we’d make it a day to remember. We’re never going to see a platinum jubilee again,” McEwen says, while Prudden plans to eat “as much food” as possible.
For Vanessa Kear, 75, beyond the bunting and biryani, the royal celebration is an emotional affair. “I really think the Queen has done an immense job and we should praise her. Who else is working at her age?” she says. “But it’s not just the Queen we are celebrating. We are celebrating us.”
Over the course of the monarch’s reign, St Mark’s Road has transformed beyond recognition. When Kear moved to the area more than 50 years ago it was so dangerous that “taxis wouldn’t stop in the street and you wouldn’t be out on your own after 6pm. It wasn’t a community. Everybody did their own thing,” she says.
In recent years, trendy restaurants have opened their doors in the area and property prices have surged. But residents old and new have pulled together throughout.
During the pandemic, kind neighbours who delivered food and provided company kept people like Kear alive, she says. Then there was a widely opposed attempt by the local council to pedestrianise the road, which galvanised residents who had never spoken to each other before against a common enemy.
The party is the first chance for St Mark’s Road to properly get together after a tumultuous few years. “A lot of people walk down this road and don’t realise what these people give on a daily basis,” Kear says. “I love it here and I’m so proud of them all.”