Four days honor Queen’s 60 years
BY GREGORY KATZ June 1, 2012 10:32PM
Updated: June 6, 2012 8:15AM
LONDON — Britain is marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne with a four-day holiday weekend of ceremony, symbolism and street parties.
The queen will celebrate Saturday at the Epsom Derby, a highlight of the horseracing calendar, and on Sunday she will lead a 1,000-boat flotilla on the River Thames. Monday’s festivities include a pop concert in front of Buckingham Palace with Paul McCartney and Elton John, and festivities climax Tuesday with a religious service, a procession through the streets of London and the royal family’s appearance on the palace balcony.
At the heart of the Diamond Jubilee celebration is a nearly universal sense of appreciation for the queen, who acceded to the throne in 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI.
Elizabeth was a vibrant young woman of 25 when she became the head of state of a faltering post-war nation. At 86 she remains strong of heart and stout of spirit, refusing to let age slow her pace or dim her smile, which if anything has grown more welcoming over the years.
Winston Churchill was prime minister when she became queen, and David Cameron, who wasn’t even born then, is Britain’s leader now. Elizabeth herself has no political role. But her royal mystique, the centuries of history she embodies and her own discreet charisma help define the very idea of Britain for the world.
Alan Watson, a member of the House of Lords who has written a book about the queen, said the jubilee is a joyous occasion for many Britons who see the queen as a symbol of stability.
“The country has lost its empire and is no longer in the front rank of power, and I really think that change has been enormously eased by her and what she represents,” he said. “My feeling is she has enabled change by her reassurance of essential continuity.”
When Lord Watson joined the queen at a rain-soaked tree-planting ceremony in Richmond several weeks ago, he said he was struck by her buoyant mood as the Jubilee approached.
“I got the clear feeling that she is really enjoying things,” he said. “It was pouring rain, but she really looked radiant, a happy person. I think she feels very content in herself. I think she is satisfied with how the reign has gone.”
Elizabeth has weathered shaky times with her children, whose marriages have tended to break apart, and her popularity suffered after the 1997 death of Princess Diana, with some finding her response to the tragedy to be cold and out of touch with public sentiment.
But all evidence suggests the queen’s connection to her subjects has recovered from those blows.
There was overwhelming support for Elizabeth at the last great celebration that focused on her role — the Golden Jubilee bash that in 2002 marked her 50 years on the throne.
Not everyone in Britain will be celebrating. The anti-monarchist group Republic plans a riverbank protest as the flotilla goes by on Sunday — followed by a pub night where royal refuseniks can drown their sorrows.
But royal officials have reason to be optimistic. Newspaper polls this week suggested that affection and appreciation for Elizabeth cut across all ages, social classes and political affiliations.
For many, she is a living link to the challenges and triumphs of World War II, when she was a young princess who helped with the war effort, even learning how to drive and service heavy vehicles with the Auxiliary Transport Service.
Her staying power is impressive. Elizabeth is the oldest person to reign over Britain, and only Queen Victoria, who took the throne at an earlier age, had a longer reign: 63 years and seven months.
It is of course true that some are indifferent or hostile to the monarchy, with its vast inherited wealth and status, but few question the dedication or sincerity of the queen.
“She’s done a very good job,” said Jean Robson, a London retiree. “She works so very hard. The family’s had problems like every family, and she’s dealt with them very well.”