‘We need a theme,’ said one of the ladies at our first town meeting to discuss how we should celebrate the Diamond Jubilee in June. ‘The theme’s the Queen,’ said another, firmly. ‘Or queens generally,’ added a third, ‘that gives us more scope. How about a Queen tribute band?’ ‘And a drag queen competition,’ said her neighbour, looking at me. ‘Martin, you’ll have to get your frock on.’
I’ve ducked that challenge so far but I’m deep in discussion of bouncy castles, hog roasts, tug-of-war tournaments and senior citizens’ singalongs. No doubt it will all be chaotic, fractious and teetering on disaster until the great day dawns, the sun shines, the crowd rolls up and we declare our event a memorable success — a bit like the Olympics. That’s the British way, we’re proud of it, and you’ll observe that I have already answered for myself the most important question about this summer’s 60th anniversary royal-fest: whether to be an active participant, a patriotic onlooker, or an outright party-pooper.
If your own inclination is towards the last of those options, however, don’t read much further: just book yourself into some fabulously hip boutique hotel in Marrakech or Istanbul (www.luxique.com is a good place to start looking) for the first week of June and tell them to take the television out of your suite. But frankly, you’ll be making a huge social blunder. The coolest attitude to the Jubilee is to be wholeheartedly in favour of it and determined to have fun — with your neighbours or, if you have the opportunity, within cheering distance of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh themselves. This is not a moment for standoffishness or postmodern posturing.
Quentin Letts, in his Christmas Spectator wish-list, proposed ‘a minute’s standing ovation, nationwide’ during the Jubilee celebrations, and it won’t surprise me if that’s exactly what the whole nation feels moved to do on Tuesday 5 June during the Queen’s carriage procession to St Paul’s for the Service of Thanksgiving. So take my advice and get with the programme.
Those of an equestrian bent will certainly want to take in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, featuring 500 horses and 800 performers, in the grounds of Windsor Castle on the evenings of 10 to 13 May — tickets at £30 to £100, from 0844 581 4970, will also give access to the Windsor Horse Show on the same site during the day, but not the Main Arena, for which you need separate tickets. You’ll also want a place in a hospitality tent at Epsom for the Derby, which the Queen will be attending, on Saturday 2 June (www.epsomderby.co.uk).
But the greatest spectacle of the century so far takes place on the Thames at high water on Sunday 3 June, when a flotilla of 1,000 boats of all shapes, sizes and histories will escort the Queen downriver to Greenwich on her specially adapted Royal Barge, to the accompaniment of floating music and bells.
Too late, I’m afraid, to register your own vessel totake part — even if you’re an oligarch with asuperyacht and a wide-open wallet. More than 3,000 boat-owners applied before the list was closed, andthe disappointed ones have been offered riverside seatsas a consolation prize. The 30,000 or so places available on regular Thames cruisers are rapidly being snapped uptoo — though you might still be able to book a £299lunch on the Thames Princess, embarking from Lambeth Pier (www.thamescruises.com).
Then there’s the BBC concert in BuckinghamPalace garden on Monday 4 June, a repeat of the ‘Party at the Palace’ from the 2002 Golden Jubilee, which famously kicked off with real Queen guitarist Brian Mayplaying the national anthem on electric guitar from the Palace roof and featured the Prince of Wales addressing the bemused Queen as ‘Your Majesty… Mummy!’Earplugs for the Duke, I’m guessing, and hipflasks all round the royal box as they smile through a multicultural mishmash of popular music interspersed with tamecomedians. Still, if you’re lucky enough to get tickets in the public ballot, it will surely be better to be there than watching it on the telly.
How best to be close to the action, if you’re not on the palace guest list? The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge is offering a four-night package (‘a regal experience with a jubilant itinerary’), from £6,500 per person, which includes places on HMS Belfast to watch the river pageant and Carlton Terrace for the carriage procession. And if that sounds too pricey, Omega Holidays has a Saturday-Sunday coach package with accommodation in ‘Outer London/Berkshire’ (I assume that doesn’t mean Windsor Castle) from £99.50 per person.
Then again, if your Jubilee budget only stretches to £99.50, you might get better value by filling a Tesco trolley with two-for-one offers for your street party, including the cheap champagne that will be stacked high. Being part of a crowd of millions for the big London events will be a buzz, but there will also be plenty of bonhomie at home, as well as blokeish opportunities for massive barbecues and beacon bonfires. You won’t want to miss it, and if you live in an exclusive London garden square, you might finally get to meet the people who live next door.
But perhaps you’re still yearning to escape from all that bunting and bad weather and BBC coverage, even though you’re a royalist at heart. Happily, there is an alternative. The Queen will be touring Britain between April and mid-July, but she’s not going abroad; instead, every other working member of the family has been allocated a set of overseas territories to visit on Her Majesty’s behalf in the course of the year. So pick your destination to coincide with the royal visitor, and wangle yourself an invite to the High Commissioner’s reception. You might not want to follow the dutiful but dull old Duke of Kent to the Falklands or Uganda, but how about Wills and Kate in Malaysia? Sounds like a party to me.
WHERE TO WATCH THE FLOTILLA
Pont de la Tour
Dine in style in the shadow of Tower Bridge and watch the flotilla reach its final destination. Lunch on the terrace costs £350 per head and includes champagne, a three-course meal, wine and afternoon tea.
The London Eye
Book your place on the Eye and you will get one of the capital’s best views of the flotilla as it sails down the Thames. Or take the London Eye River Cruise, which will be joining the flotilla.
As part of The Lanesborough and Mandarin Oriental’s Diamond Jubilee packages, guests will get a close-up of the flotilla from the deck of HMS Belfast, moored next to Tower Bridge.
The Duke’s Head, Putney
Toast the start of the flotilla as it makes its way from Putney into the heart of the city. This Grade II-listed Victorian pub offers great vantage points from its terrace and riverside dining room.
Classic Car Boot Sale,
Battersea Park Here owners of classic cars sell vintage bric-a-bac and royal collectables. There will also be live music, a funfair and family games, as well as a chance to catch the flotilla from the riverside.