Last Wednesday was more memorable than most for me as I had the novel experience of spending it at Buckingham Palace. I’d been lucky enough to receive an invitation to one of three garden parties being hosted to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
It was fascinating to enter the grounds of Buckingham Palace – and if I’d begun to think I was special to have received this invitation, I soon learnt there were no fewer than 8000 guests. Fortunately, they somehow managed to cater for us all with finger sandwiches and an assortment of cakes. It compared favourably with a parents’ match tea at St John’s!
As the Queen was not in attendance, she was represented by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge and HRH the Earl and Countess of Wessex. After seeing them from a distance while the national anthem was played, they were absorbed into the crowds and I didn’t see them again. Despite this, it did feel special to be in attendance but it also made me reflect on the abstract nature of the allure of these individuals. By a quirk of hereditary title or by marital choice, this trio is bestowed with a status above the rest of us.
Which brings me back to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and what it represents. There’s no question that reigning for 70 years is an achievement of longevity but it is also one of service. The Queen’s coronation, held at Westminster Abbey where England’s kings and queens have been crowded for 900 years, was ground-breaking as the first ever to be televised. It was watched by 27 million people in the UK alone and millions more around the world.
In the seven decades since, many things about life in Britain have changed. The beginning of the second Elizabethan age heralded a time of dramatic scientific, technological and cultural change. And, in the past 70 years, our country’s population has grown from under 51 million to over 68 million. So there’s no question that Britain in 2022 looks very different from the one which celebrated the Queen’s coronation.
Amid all this change, many would argue that the Queen has provided a sense of continuity. Even in our most recent times of challenge, the Queen has led by example. She was filmed getting her Covid jab in an attempt to reassure the wary and we saw her abide by every law and guideline, even at the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip.
The jubilee falls in our half term holiday but we will still acknowledge it at St John’s. The Queen’s Green Canopy is a UK-wide tree planting initiative which invites people to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”. So we will plant a new tree at St John’s to mark this milestone. Interestingly, it’s recorded in our archives that a tulip tree was planted to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 but the tree is no longer there, so let’s hope this new one survives longer – it would be nice to think it will still be standing in 70 years.
What might St John’s look like in 2092? What will Britain be like? And what role will the monarchy play in the coming decades? Earlier this year, Matthew Syed wrote about the monarchy and, despite being a self-professed monarchist, wondered if the allure of the monarchy might be lost without the Queen. He said that the monarchy is “a concept that works as a unifying institution only as long as people believe it is a unifying institution. In the person of the Queen, that mythology continues to serenely levitate upon our collective unconscious, as it has done for much of the past thousand years.”
Whatever the future holds, and regardless of your views on whether the monarchy should exist or not, I believe we can admire the Queen for her determined service which has persisted through good times and bad. On her 21st birthday, the then Princess Elizabeth stated: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” We now know her life to be long and, in her tenth decade, she continues to serve.