Close to the end of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, a three-hour, three-kilometre parade, the Royal standard was raised. The Queen – absent so far, absent from the Party at the Palace on Saturday, absent from the service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday – had returned to Buckingham Palace, and might soon appear on the balcony to greet the crowds.
Briefly (there was, after all, still a pack of wheeled corgis racing down the Mall) things turned sombre – both in anticipation of her arrival and from the reminder that this weekend’s festivities were about to conclude; that there will be no more revelry of this kind again. Until now, it had been a giddy carnival of mad puppets and Prince Louis’ funny faces.
The pageant was always heralded as the climax of the Bank Holiday weekend and, while regularly hallucinogenic to behold (I will be haunted by nightmares of the 20ft puppet of Lady Godiva bobbing along the London skyline) it was a bizarre but really quite lovely tribute to Britain’s culture, creativity and the Queen herself.
It didn’t start that way. The pageant was split into four acts, the first of which was titled “For Queen and Country” and was your usual marching, uniforms, brass bands and military delegations from the Commonwealth – all very proper and orderly but we are a little more used to seeing such displays from services of Remembrance and the like, so not hugely thrilling.
But Time of Our Lives was Act Two, and was just as ludicrous as I had hoped in loading up a series of double decker buses with celebrities to represent each decade of the Queen’s reign.
Naturally, this was pop culture carnage. Following a trippy procession of bikes and Morris dancers and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, Cliff Richard and Chris Eubank led the first bus for the 1950s. Alan Titchmarsh, Ken Barlow, Basil Brush represented the 60s (with some twirling Daleks in their wake); Shirley Ballas, Craig Charles and a Mr Whippy van were the 70s and on and on it went.
Most glamorous, I think, was the 90s, with both Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell on board, but shout out too to Martin Lewis, spotted waving from the top deck of the 2010s. One wonders what the money saving expert thinks about the estimated £15million being spent on this event alone as the country plummets further into a cost of living crisis but that’s for another time. Today was a happy day, and this was pleasingly odd London Olympics-lite.
It was Act Three, Let’s Celebrate where things felt special – a kaleidoscopic parade of dancers and floats and what felt like living, moving art, all of it honouring the Queen’s life, the natural world, or the diversity of this country (Coventry-based outdoor events company Imagineer triumphed in their commission for the procession tableaux titled “The Queen’s Favourites”).
There was that towering Lady Godiva, created for the 2012 Olympics; a huge float with terrifying, gigantic Beefeaters standing to attention along both sides; flamingos powered by motor-scooters; a 6 metre-tall recreation of the Queen’s wedding cake with Bollywood dancers spinning around it; an intricate, beautiful wire bust of the young Queen; 10 of her favourite horses brought to life.
Animals crafted from billowing silks and plastic skeletons flew to the sounds of music from across the world (on TV, this was lost to commentary – at times useful, often clearly pinched from a press pack – from Claire Balding, Scott Mills, Lulu and Giles Brandreth).
Everywhere you looked, there was some colourful explosion of energy, imagination and joy – half the fun, though, was watching the until-now visibly bored (and presumably exhausted) royal children point and giggle with delight at the magic in front of them (as on Thursday after Trooping the Colour, a restless Prince Louis once again almost stole the show and eventually settled to sit on Prince Charles’s knee).
There is much pomp and circumstance of the British monarchy, and not a lot of space for silliness. Where this pageant – the ultimate street party to end all street parties – delighted, it was in those moments: those yapping puppet corgis, Joan Collins in a Jaguar, key workers holding hands.
The fourth and final act, Happy and Glorious, was striking – not because of Ed Sheeran’s acoustic performance by the Buckingham Palace gates over a video montage of a young Queen and Prince Philip, but because when she did eventually emerge on the balcony, in bold emerald green, she seemed moved, before a huge smile broke across her face.
With this finale, the younger members of her family stood on either side of her, it was impossible not to end this pageant and weekend thinking less about her remarkable reign and more about what awaits for the next generation.