I remember the Queen’s Golden Jubilee ten years ago. When the commemorative flypast took place, I was festering in a box room on an ex-council estate in East London. I think I was hungover.
Actually, I was 22 years old. I know I was hungover.
Three miles west of my less-than-regal living quarters, more than a million individuals had mobbed The Mall and the wider environs of Buckingham Palace. Many were armed with union flags, others just with cameras, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of the boyishly handsome Prince William. There was, by all accounts, a party atmosphere – aided I’m sure by the fact that the Great British elements had opted not to rain on this particular parade.
But more than the event itself, I recall an outpouring of surprise from the press and the public alike that the occasion had not been a washout in the wider sense. The Windsors were perceived to have a popularity problem. Papers such as "The Guardian" decreed that they were out of touch with the populace, and the populace would be out of sight come the Jubilee.
Given the apparent apathy towards Betty’s big day, the decision to throw millions of pounds at the occasion should – theoretically – have swollen anti-monarchy sentiment. But the British are a fickle folk. Give them an extra public holiday and there’s a chance they might grant you some gratitude. Ergo, the backlash didn’t materialize, the day passed with pomp, ceremony and plenty of people, and the monarchist “Daily Mail” newspaper responded with one of the most laughably imperialistic editorials this side of the Seven Years’ War…
“Below and in front of [the Queen] an event as magical and magnificent as the Golden Jubilee itself was unfurling before her captivated eyes — Britain was rediscovering the land of hope and glory.”
OK – hold your ceremonial horses a second. Yes, people showed up. Yes, some of them were British. It was a sunny, work-free Monday and, as anyone who has ever been to Magaluf will attest, Britons are drawn to sunshine like Prince Philip to faux pas. But consider how many foreign visitors are milling around in central London on the average June day. Consider how many more there might be on a national holiday that has made international headlines. Was this truly the reclamation of Royal Britannia that the “Mail” proclaimed? Or was it a case of the Windsors doing what I’ve always maintained the Windsors do best? Reeling in tourism revenue.
A study released in the UK this week has revealed that the British public plans to spend an extra $1.3 billion (or roughly $63 per person) over the coming long weekend to “celebrate the Jubilee”. This being Blighty, food and drink comprise the greatest share of this spend. Now, forgive me my cynicism. It’s barbecue season. People have four days off work. They’re stocking up on supplies. End of story, no?
Contrary to what most of the world will see on its screens over coming days, the average Brit will not be hanging out bunting while humming “God Save the Queen”. The average Brit is a difficult creature to pin down, but there’s a good chance that the monarch won’t cross his or her mind. Nor will the fact that the four-day weekend is actually wiping billions off the nation’s already battered economy. The average Brit will probably be too battered to care.
So, let’s thank the tourists for topping up our coffers. When the largest flotilla of boats in 350 years sails through London on Sunday, they’ll be out in force. Whether the natives join them or not will largely be down to the weather.
Column inches, nay, column miles will be devoted to the turnout on the Thames this weekend and what it means for the monarchy. Let me make this easier for the columnists behind them. It means diddly squat.
Why not accept this very British institution for what it is: an archaic but endurable tourist trap in a country that needs to move on from past conquests and find other ways to be “great”?
Let’s start with the Olympics.