One of the benefits of living in a big city is that I once in a while find myself in the centre of the global spotlight. This will no doubt be the case as the Olympics approach and that will certainly lead to several blog entries detailing the atmosphere and the excitement that comes with the games. I got a small taste of what the Olympics might be like a couple of weeks ago as the United Kingdom celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Jubilee weekend, which stretched from Saturday to Tuesday thanks to a couple of bank holidays, was very typically British, even down to the weather. All over the city there were festivals and concerts celebrating the Queen, but the two main ones I will focus on are the Queen’s Flotilla down the River Thames and the concert at Buckingham Palace. The Flotilla I was lucky enough to attend, the concert I could not get tickets but was able to watch on TV.
It was a cold and rainy Sunday morning in London and I had arranged to meet friends at 9am on the other side of the city. As I left my house around 730am, umbrella firmly in hand, I realized that the Flotilla would not actually begin for another seven hours! I thought for sure as we headed down to the Chelsea Embankment that we would be the only ones crazy enough to stand in the cold for hours on end! Was I ever wrong! Already there were food stands set up, many had tents set up and had clearly been camping overnight to ensure they got the perfect spot. Fortunately we were able to walk far enough along the embankment to get a spot right on the side of the River Thames, overlooking Battersea Park and the Battersea Power Station, a very nice view indeed!
As the time passed more and more people began arriving despite the increasingly grey conditions. People were trying everything to keep warm but most resorted to drinking wine and singing the national anthem to keep occupied. It was great to see the patriotism of the United Kingdom come out in full force over the course of the weekend, something I missed when the Royal Wedding took place last year but was looking forward to experiencing first hand.
After hours of waiting, and a couple cheeky glasses of wine, it was finally time for the main event. The Flotilla was comprised of 1000 boats and stretched all the way from Battersea Bridge in west London (near where we were) to Canary Wharf in south east London, a span of approximately 7.5 miles. While this wasn’t too far for boats such as the Queen’s it was quite difficult for those paddling their way down the Thames. Many of these boats had been forced to paddle their way up the Thames that morning to get into the correct position and were simply exhausted as the Floatilla began thus having to undergo the embarrassment of being towed. Finally, after all the commonwealth boats went by, we got our first glimpse of the Queen’s Flotilla. It was a beautiful, massive red and gold boat that had a covered platform in the middle to allow the Royal Family to stay dry as they meandered down the Thames. Being right on the shores of the Thames and having recently invested in a new camera helped considerably as I was able to take a few decent pictures of the event as you can see below.
Just after the Queen floated by the skies really began to open up so in true British fashion we hurried into the nearest pub to dry off! I spent the time leading up to the Jubilee not really knowing what to expect but it was a very fun day, despite the weather, and well worth getting there early! The weekend was then capped off with the Jubilee concert which helped further integrate me into the British culture.
The concert was held outside Buckingham Palace at the roundabout in front of the Queen’s residence. Although only 10,000 people were awarded tickets to the actual concert grounds the crowd extended down the Mall and actually reached 250,000 people! It was certainly a sight to see on TV. The concert began with a favourite of my sister’s, Robbie Williams, and contained several top notch British acts including Cliff Richard, Elton John and Paul McCartney. It ended with Prince Charles making a speech toasting the Queen, and even he drew a couple of laughs from the audience as he referred to the Queen as “mummy”.
It was certainly a memorable weekend in London and it was for an occasion I will never see again in my life time. It also gave me a bit of a preview of what the Olympics might be like, hard to believe they are only 6 weeks away!