British celebrate 50 years of queen's reign

Royal deaths will dim, but not extinguish, the gleam of Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee.

Destination: Great Britain

April 14, 2002|By Jane Wooldridge | By Jane Wooldridge,Knight Ridder / Tribune

She was 25, a radiant young mother on a trip to Kenya with her dashing husband, when Elizabeth Alexandra Mary learned that her beloved father had died, and she had become queen of England.

That was 50 years ago. And though the anniversary of her ascension to the throne -- Feb. 6 -- has passed, the celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee haven't. Most gear up this spring and last throughout the summer.

The festivities will be marred by the recent death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the queen's younger sister, Princess Margaret, the glamorous and slightly reckless Princess Di of her day. Still, the show will go on.

"The jubilee represents an opportunity for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to thank the people of Britain and the Commonwealth for their support over the past 50 years," a senior palace aide said. "We all hope it will be above all a celebration which brings communities together and includes people of all ages and backgrounds."

It is, in short, a civic-minded show of respect both by and for a monarch who has dedicated her life to duty.

From May through July, there will be garden parties, walking tours and exhibits, and the queen will be very much in evidence. Many events will be open to the public.

Throughout the spring and summer, museums and royal residences will stage tours, exhibitions, concerts, equestrian extravaganzas and plays exploring the queen's official role as well as her private loves of horses and hounds.

The signature events will take place June 1-4, when Britain will take a holiday to attend public concerts on the grounds of London's Buckingham Palace -- Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John are rumored to be on the ticket -- and a festival of parades in the Mall, the lane outside the queen's London residence.

"This anniversary is for us an occasion to acknowledge with gratitude the loyalty and support which we have received from so many people since I came to the throne in 1952," the queen said in a statement. "It is especially an opportunity to thank all those of you who help others in your own local communities through public or voluntary service.

"I hope also that this time of celebration in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth will not simply be an occasion to be nostalgic about the past. I believe that, young or old, we have as much to look forward to with confidence and hope as we have to look back on with pride."

A diminished reverence

Rallying the nation is a tougher job today than when the queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977. Then, millions took to the streets across Britain to show their affection for the queen.

The 25 years since have been rough ones for the monarchy, marked by marital infidelities and hostile divorces among the royal offspring, headline treatment of strained family relations, the 1992 decision that the previously tax-exempt monarch should pay her share, a massive fire at Windsor Castle, the public outpouring of grief over Princess Di's death.

The reverence that once made each new royal portrait a global news event has been replaced by skeptical, market-driven times, so that even now, as jubilee festivities approach, the British press rings with headlines like "Time for a Reign Check," "Queen's Party Snubbed: Golden Jubilee Could be a Flop," "Golden Anniversary Fails to Excite British."

Still, there's little argument that Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 76 this month, takes her duty seriously and puts it before personal concerns.

One of only three British monarchs who have lived long enough to celebrate 50 years in office, Queen Elizabeth II has donned sensible shoes and color-coordinated hats and smiled stoically through thousands of state dinners, welcoming ceremonies, children's plays, classroom trips, military parades, cemetery visits, meetings with heads of state, charity events, city tours and baseball games.

The centerpiece of the Golden Jubilee will be the London String of Pearls, a months-long celebration during which 80-plus institutions along the Thames River will offer programs and open rooms usually closed to the public.

Plans include an exhibition of royal gowns from queens Victoria, Mary, Alexandra and Elizabeth II at Kensington Palace (Princess Di's former home) and a show of tiaras at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Visitors also will be able to tour such rarely seen spaces as the Institution of Civil Engineers Building; the Fishmongers' Company, one of the oldest city guildhalls; the private gardens of Eton College; the belfry of Westminster Abbey; the Whitehall building, home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, known for ornate interior courtyards; and the legal bastions of the Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, where Shakespeare is said to have staged the premiere of "Twelfth Night."

The idea, says String of Pearls director Dylan Hammond, is to encourage people to rediscover London's core, the river, and to build bridges between the people and government.

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