The Queen crowned her historic platinum jubilee celebrations with a last-minute appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on Sunday, bringing to a close four days of festivities that revealed not only the contents of her handbag, but a nation’s undiminished appetite for a party.
The 96-year-old monarch waved to cheering crowds gathered in the Mall for the carnival climax of the four-day bank holiday weekend.
She was accompanied only by those closest to the throne, a tableau of the future of Britain’s monarchy, with the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children; an image incorporating three future kings, and two future queens.
This was the people’s day of the jubilee, as thousands of street parties were held across the UK. In London it did not, as threatened, rain on the Queen’s parade, as a carnival extraordinaire featured a two mile-long pageant dedicated to the only monarch most of us have ever known.
It was initially uncertain whether the Queen, whose mobility issues had caused her to miss so much of the jubilee, would be fit enough to attend. The first indication came when the royal standard was raised above Buckingham Palace at 4.30pm, meaning she had arrived.
Later, in a written message of thanks to the nation, she seemed to acknowledge her fragility, but committed to continue as monarch, saying: “When it comes to how to mark 70 years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my platinum jubilee.
“While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family.
“I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come.”
Along the route from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace, retracing her coronation procession, more than 6,000 participants – celebrities, costumed performers and colourful characters on extravagant floats – paraded through central London.
The procession, telling the story of the Queen’s seven-decade reign, was led by the gold state coach, more than 250 years old and a poignant symbol of the coronation.
The monarch appeared as a hologram, projected on its windows in archive footage of her as a young sovereign waving to crowds.
The pageant marked the end of a four-day, flag-waving orgy of patriotism; military ceremonials; crowds thronging the Mall; beacons and bunting; Buckingham Palace transformed by light shows and a spectacular drone display.
An average of 11.2 million TV viewers – reaching a peak of 13.4 million – tuned in to watch Saturday’s Platinum Party at the Palace and the unveiling of the biggest secret of all, the Queen demonstrating her capacity to still surprise, and her superb comic timing, in a small cameo having tea with Paddington Bear, and revealing – after seven decades – the marmaladey contents of her famous handbag.
Earlier on Sunday, Charles, who had paid tribute to “Her Majesty – Mummy”, and Camilla joined a Big Jubilee Lunch at The Oval, in south London.
His hope was that the spirit of togetherness, engendered over the weekend, would endure, telling guest Sarah Friar, CEO of neighbourhood app Nextdoor: “When it comes to Monday, are we going to go back to all the bickering again? Let’s hope we don’t do that.” Gemma Snow, from the Eden Project, who also spoke to Charles, said he talked about “keeping that togetherness going”.
There were royals aplenty in the royal box, but the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who flew in from California last week with children Archie, three, and Lilibet, one, were not present. Absent from the palace balcony on Thursday, the couple have only been seen in public on one occasion when they appeared with other members of the royal family at Friday’s service of thanksgiving.
The final carnival act of the jubilee took place around the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace, as the £15m pageant concluded in a finale with Ed Sheeran performing his hit Perfect, followed by a mass rendition of the national anthem.
A roll call of British stars, from TV, film, music and sport from each era of the Queen’s reign had travelled the route in eight open-top buses. They included Idris Elba, Alan Titchmarsh, Sir Cliff Richard, fashion royalty Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, as well as the puppet Basil Brush.
There were Dames in vintage cars, including Joan Collins, Darcey Bussell, Prue Leith, Twiggy and Zandra Rhodes. A peloton of 300 cyclists, on vintage bikes, was led by Sir Chris Hoy, Dame Laura Kenny and husband Sir Jason Kenny. A nod to Britain’s history was provided by parades of classic motorbikes, scooters, Morris Minors and vintage Land Rovers, with dancers performing the Lambeth Walk.
A fleet of Aston Martins represented James Bond. There were hippies, hula-hoopers, energetic space hoppers, Daleks, ice-cream vans, a towering cake with corgi toppers, and giant puppets – all accompanied by a cacophony of musical hits from decades past.
More than 85,000 Big Jubilee lunches were held, according to organisers.
In reality, it was a jubilee without its leading lady for much of the time, as she missed the thanksgiving service, the Epsom Derby and the pop concert. The Queen was on public view in person for just over 27 minutes throughout the weekend.