The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Stateside
For most Americans, this weekend probably presents a fairly steady affair, especially following an action-packed Memorial Day. Not so in the Mother Country. This weekend the U.K. is exploding in a riot of Union Jack-flag waving, cheers, ceremonial marching, and street parties to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is Rule, Britannia on steroids.
The four-day extravaganza that began on Thursday marks the first time a British monarch has reached 70 years of rule (though service is more apt for this queen). It is an astonishing feat. Queen Elizabeth never even expected to be queen. The abdication of her uncle Edward VIII forced the crown on her father, George VI, meaning suddenly she was next in line. On Feb. 6, 1952, she ascended to the throne at the age of 25, following the unexpected early death of her father.
Her reign has spanned the tenure of 14 British prime ministers and U.S. presidents—she met all of them, apart from Lyndon B. Johnson—as well as seven popes. She has carried out 21,000 official engagements, visited more than 100 countries, and given royal assent to more than 4,000 acts of Parliament becoming the law of the land. She has overseen the British monarchy through times of huge social and global upheaval.
“She’s done an amazing job, absolutely, who else would want do to that for 70 years—just magnificent,” remarked a middle-aged lady interviewed by GB News on the great thoroughfare of London’s Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace, while wearing a Union-Jack-patterned party hat.
“We love her, she brings people together, and she is such an icon of Britain,” remarked a younger lady with a non-British accent, possibly Australian.
That Brits and people of other nationalities are so enthusiastically embracing the celebration—French President Emmanuel Macon gave a particularly classy address—reflects the Queen’s enduring popularity. That this 96-year-old great grandmother recently became a widow has further enflamed people’s hearts and sympathies.
There are things going on here for the British nation that have relevance to the fraught atmosphere of the United States. Brits are notoriously shy about flying the flag. It is rare to see one outside a home. It just doesn’t happen, for all sorts of reasons: sensitivities around Empire and colonialism, a history of right-wing hooliganism in sport, the British penchant for understatement. All of which make Brits wary of displaying naked patriotism. But it is always there beneath the surface, as it should be—a love of country, tradition, and your people.
So now Brits have an excuse to let it hang out: all that unadulterated Britishness and associated pomp, ceremony, and color. Furthermore, this weekend’s celebrations follow the suffocating experience of the pandemic, which also included, albeit not to the degree displayed in the U.S., BLM protests and the attendant navel-gazing reflections about white privilege and the supposed systemic racism at the heart of our fair isle. There is a reactionary quality to the celebrations, with people stating their obvious and entirely healthy pride at being British, including all the anachronistic elements involved in that, such as the Queen and the 1,200-year-old monarchy.
Contrast that with the current propensity in the U.S. for embarrassment and confliction about the august traditions and achievements that feed into the great experiment that is the U.S.’s democratic rule by the people, for the people. Of course, plenty of Americans remain deeply patriotic, but it has become more polarizing, and it appears it is now harder to display one’s patriotism in the sort of easy-going, friendly, and open way happening in the U.K. at the moment.
The contrast has been accentuated in my mind by the Platinum Jubilee coming straight after Memorial Day. While not a U.S. citizen, I had enough friends killed in Iraq and Afghanistan for Memorial Day to resonate with me. But as I listened to a group of adults the other side of 30 lounging beside a pool discussing what drugs they had taken at this and that party over the long weekend, it emphasized to me how many Americans don’t credit the day for its true terms. There is nothing wrong with Memorial Day turning into a big celebration—it is a form of freedom those soldiers died for—but at least the U.K.’s celebrations remain tethered to the essential components.
Brits appear to be more willing to face up to and gratefully acknowledge the previous sacrifices that have ennobled the present—such as the queen’s service—recognizing each “little bit of the past that brought us to today,” in the words of Anglican priest Marcus Walker writing in the Critic. Walker discusses how the universal realities of life, love, and death are at the core of the monarchy’s strength. Brits have to face how we will, possibly very soon, enter a new era when the queen dies. There is undeniably a type of pre-requiem giving of thanks for Elizabeth’s life underpinning the jubilee celebrations this weekend.
So many Americans, in contrast, are sleep-walking into the difficult and new future unfolding before us all, or embracing blissful ignorance through medication or recreational drugs. Since returning to the post-pandemic U.S., I increasingly wonder whether anyone learned anything from Covid’s upturning of life. Brits have better grappled with the significance of two years of a finite existence being needlessly blighted. Indeed, by celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, we are “marking in great state that most natural and human of all things: the passing of time,” as Walker writes.
Another lady interviewed on The Mall acknowledged how the Platinum Jubilee is a “once in a lifetime event.” So it is for her, and so it most probably will prove for her pre-teen daughter standing beside her; it was a jarring moment of candor and sadness amid the celebrations: the women acknowledging her inevitable death, along with that of the queen, and eventually the same fate for her young smiling daughter. But the celebrations continue, because there is still much to celebrate and be grateful for.
“I have a bedroll to keep me slightly more comfortable on this horrid ground and I have my Union Jack blanket to keep me warm,” said one lady camping on the pavement beside The Mall for the entirety of the four-day jubilee. “The queen’s worth it.”
What else is left to say but: God save the queen. And God bless America.
James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist and writer who splits his time between the US, the UK, and further afield, and writes for various international media. Follow him on Twitter: @jrfjeffrey and at his website: www.jamesjeffreyjournalism.com.