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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jubilee a very British occasion


LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee is over. It was a very British occasion, including the weather.

British people enjoy pomp and color. They had plenty of both over the long weekend of the Jubilee celebrations.

The press and television covered the events fully and there is no need to relate them all here. But some stand out.

Sunday's river pageant, which was organized with precision, recalled to many a famous painting by Canaletto of a similar Thames pageant in the 18th century. The parade of small ships and boats of every description, which lasted more than four hours, covered some 10 km and ended at Tower Bridge, was spectacular despite the rain that poured down towards the end.

British nostalgia was aroused by the sight of some of the little boats that had taken part in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk in 1940. Dunkirk was an inglorious defeat but the troops, largely without their weapons were saved, and soon ready to fight against the threatened German invasion.

The queen, who is 86, and her consort Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who is nearly 91, stood throughout on the royal barge watching and waving at the crowds.

Over 40 people had to be treated for hypothermia and many must have caught chills. The cold and rain may well have exacerbated the bladder infection that caused the duke to miss the later celebrations. But the enthusiasm and applause for the royal couple was intense and clearly spontaneous.

The highlight of Monday's celebrations was the concert of popular music held at the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. Those lucky enough to get a ticket (allocated by a lottery) enjoyed picnics prepared by a celebrity chef.

The crowds were once again enormous and cheers greeted the firework finale.

The main event on Tuesday was a thanksgiving service at St. Paul's cathedral, attended by what the British call "the great and the good" (although many are not great or good).

The archbishop of Canterbury preached a sermon in which he praised the queen's dedication to the service of her country and peoples, but speaking in the heart of the city of London reminded his audience against greed and selfishness.

Choirs from around the country and representatives of organizations connected with charities sponsored by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales took part in the service, which was televised.

The queen and members of the royal family then lunched in Westminster Hall, which was built in 1097 and has an impressive hammer beam roof.

They were the guests of the City of London's Livery Companies, some of which date back to the craft guilds established as early as the 12th century.

The queen returned to Buckingham Palace in an open carriage accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, who is married to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne.

The Red Arrows and aircraft dating back to World War II made a spectacular fly-past. The queen was accompanied by Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. His wife, the former Kate Middleton, whom he met while studying at St. Andrews University in Scotland, and his brother, Prince Harry, came out on the palace balcony to acknowledge the cheers of the huge crowd of well-wishers waving Union Jacks.

Wednesday included a lunch for representatives of Commonwealth countries; the queen remains head of state in 16 of them. Before the jubilee celebrations proper she had entertained at a lunch at Windsor Castle fellow monarchs including the Japanese Emperor and Empress. The Emperor, who had attended her coronation 59 years ago, was given the place of honor on the queen's right.

The queen gave a televised message of thanks to all who had taken so much trouble in organizing and participating in the jubilee events and said that she was humbled by all the good will that had been shown to her.

The huge crowds, which gathered in London, remained good-humored despite the weather and the police only had to make a couple of arrests for minor offenses.

The queen rode in an open carriage and appeared in many public places without any threats to her safety.

There can be no doubts about the British people's affection for the queen.

She no longer has any political power but through her weekly audiences with her prime ministers, of which the first was Sir Winston Churchill, she is able to advise in the light of her long experience. She has always been the soul of discretion and has hardly ever put a foot wrong although she was slow in responding to the tragic death of Princess Diana.

She has almost always responded speedily to natural and man-made disasters with sympathy and understanding.

The monarchy in Britain is not threatened by republican sentiment. About 100 republicans with posters calling for an end to monarchy were seen on Sunday, but no one took any real notice of them.

The British shudder at the thought of, say, Tony Blair or even David Beckham as president.

There have been calls in the past for Prince Charles to cede the succession to his son, Prince William, who is more popular than his father. Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla, a divorcee, has also raised questions about whether she could or should be queen consort when Charles succeeds his mother. But the lineup on the palace balcony makes it clear that the queen believes that the hereditary principle should guide the succession.

The survival of monarchy depends today on the personality of the monarch and the monarch's ability and willingness to represent and empathize with the people.

Queen Elizabeth II has shown in her 60-year reign that she can fulfill this role magnificently.

Hugh Cortazzi served as British ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.


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