Queen Elizabeth incites jubilee fever
Britain's Prince Charles kisses the hand of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, whom he called "Mummy," on stage Monday as singer Sir Paul McCartney looks on at right after a concert outside Buckingham Palace in London, celebrating the queen's 60 years as monarch.
A shop window in London's Belgravia neighborhood decorated for the Jubilee.
Queen Elizabeth II meets, from left, Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Tom Jones and Sir Paul McCartney backstage at the diamond jubilee concert in London Monday.
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LONDON -- Thousands gathered around Buckingham Palace Monday night to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee with a gala concert that featured international superstars Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder, offering music from every decade of the queen's 60-year reign.
While 18,000 guests were invited to the concert being staged around the Queen Victoria Memorial, another estimated 500,000 fans tried to get glimpses of the show from screens in Hyde Park, St. James's Park and The Mall, the wide boulevard leading up to the palace.
It was no less festive throughout London, especially in tony Belgravia, London's poshest neighborhood, where the bunting started going up last week.
In a window at Peggy Porschen's pink palace of a cupcake shop -- she did Kate Moss' wedding cake -- a full-size cardboard cutout of Queen Elizabeth II invited shoppers to come in for a piece of cake and a cup of tea.
If the elaborately decorated shop windows in London have served as any kind of a barometer, this year's diamond jubilee is the biggest marketing opportunity for British retailers since -- well, a year ago, when Prince William, the heir to the British throne, got hitched to Kate Middleton, a commoner -- and retailers went wild. From shot glasses to champagne, it was all Kate and Will all the time.
This jubilee is a longer-lasting affair -- all through 2012. Today marks the last day of the central four-day celebration that began Saturday and included a 1,000-boat flotilla and fireworks on Sunday and the gala concert, which also featured Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Tom Jones, Dame Shirley Bassey, JLS, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue and Will.i.am.
The queen was cheered as she arrived partway through the show, wearing a gold lame cocktail dress under a dark cape.
As the show ended, Prince Charles took the stage and encouraged concertgoers to make some noise for his hospitalized father, Prince Philip. The crowd responded with a roar and chants of "Philip."
At the end of the concert, the queen lit the last in a chain of more than 4,200 commemorative beacons that have been set alight in Britain and abroad.
The jubilee "brand" has been omnipresent in the streets and in the stores: Moet-Chandon is selling a special diamond jubilee champagne at Waitrose supermarkets; Kit Kat candy bars were renamed "Brit Kat" for the occasion; and Marmite, that love-it-or-hate-it spread for toast, is available in a limited edition jar labeled "Ma'amite."
Instead of the familiar green canopies on its facade, Harrods department store constructed gilt frames for crowns designed by leading fashion houses. The White Co., a high-end home accessories shop, had enormous "diamante" (aka rhinestones) tiaras in its windows. At Anya Hindmarch's leather goods store, customers are invited to be photographed with one of her handbags -- along with cut-out cardboard corgis, tiaras and pearls -- while nibbling on Union Jack cakes and gin-and-tonic jellies.
"It does seem different this year," said Sally Bedell Smith, author of the best-selling biography "Elizabeth the Queen," which was published by Random House in January. She noted with some pleasure her own book was included in a display on the fourth floor of Peter Jones, an upscale department store in Sloane Square, a favorite hangout for the British version of America's preppies known as "Sloane Rangers."
On the store's first floor, Hudson & Middleton jubilee tankards were going for 26.99 pounds each (or $41.57), while a gilt Dunoon diamond jubilee teapot could set you back 60 pounds ($92.42). Couldn't make it to London in time? All of these are still available online -- although some have sold out.
The fabled Fortnum & Mason's came through with beautiful lavender and blue biscuit tins illustrated with the Queen's Beasts -- mythical creatures from the coat of arms of the monarch's ancestors, while just outside London, in Oxfordshire at the Blenheim Palace gift shop, exquisite powder-blue porcelain jubilee mugs -- inspired by the pastel shades worn by the queen -- were selling briskly at 25 pounds ($38.50).
At Philip Treacy's hat shop in Belgravia, a spiky red, white and blue "fascinator" dominated the shop window along with other fantasy creations. Mr. Treacy is considered Britain's greatest milliner, but he also was responsible for the large pretzel-shaped object worn by Princess Beatrice at last year's royal wedding, prompting much derision in the media. (The princess, daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, ended up selling the hat/pretzel on eBay for charity.)
That might explain why a reporter got nowhere asking Mr. Treacy's shop assistants whether the diamond jubilee had affected business.
Last year, too, among the London cognoscenti there was much angling for invitations to exclusive pre-wedding parties -- and those who didn't make the list made sure they were conveniently out of town. This year, though, it's all about patriotism and democracy with a small "d" -- and mingling with your neighbors at street parties and at Sunday's "Big Lunch."
"This is more like Christmas when the social season tends to shut down," said Tim Walker, who writes for The Telegraph, one of Britain's largest newspapers. "There are no big book launches or premieres planned. At the end of the day this is a big national holiday," he said, although some of the city's wealthier citizens rented space on or near bridges for their version of tailgate parties to see a close-up of the queen on her gilded barge.
What to serve at those street parties has dominated press coverage for weeks -- even in nonroyal Ireland, where trendy food shops displayed magazine covers touting recipes for the best jubilee trifle or barbecue.
"The Search for Elizabeth sponge," The Times of London solemnly intoned Thursday, in a special section devoted to a special "Jubilee Bake-off," in an attempt at some continuity: The "Victoria Sponge" is one of the most popular cakes served with tea in Britain.
While second place was the "Lovely Jubbly Jubilee Trifle Cake," with a wobbly crown of Jell-O, "ultimately the winner was chosen for its understated elegance and appetizing ingredients," The Times noted of the "Elizabeth Sponge."
When cut, the cake was a cross-section in a Union Jack design with raspberry and blueberry coloring, which one day, the Times mused, perhaps "will be as iconic as the Battenberg [a similar cake whose cross section was a pink and yellow checkerboard pattern], which was created by British Royal household chefs to celebrate the marriage of Prince Louis of Battenberg to Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine."
At least there's no Marmite in the recipe.
First Published June 5, 2012 12:00 am