Celebration of queen culminates, downpours and all
Revelers crowd the Mall in London Tuesday, seeking a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II on the Buckingham Palace balcony as part of a four-day Diamond Jubilee celebration.
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LONDON-- Duty called, and as always, she answered.
Capping a glittering, tumultuous four-day celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II went "on with the show" Tuesday -- as newspaper headlines noted -- despite the absence of her husband, Prince Philip, whose hospitalization Monday left her to go through the final day of ceremonies alone.
In a brief message to the nation Tuesday night, the 86-year-old monarch thanked Britons on behalf of herself and her husband for all their work in putting together the events marking 60 years of her reign, calling it a "humbling experience."
"It has touched me deeply to see so many thousands of families, neighbors and friends celebrating together in such a happy atmosphere," she said.
Earlier that day, the queen seemed a solitary figure in white as she mounted the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral for a National Service of Thanksgiving, but that inscrutable Windsor expression betrayed no sense of unease that, on this most important of royal anniversaries, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was ill.
In fact, the duke, who was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital Monday night as a precautionary measure for a bladder infection, was "getting better" and watching the Jubilee events on a hospital room television, his son Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, reported.
Questions about whether Sunday's rain-drenched flotilla on the River Thames contributed to the duke's illness -- he and the queen spent more than four hours outside during that river pageant -- were brushed aside by Prime Minister David Cameron.
"The royal family is incredibly dedicated to what they do, no matter what the circumstances," Mr. Cameron said, adding that the highlight of this weekend, for him, was Prince Charles' speech at the concert Monday night, when he addressed the queen as "Your Majesty -- Mummy," and exhorted the crowd to cheer for his father, that he might hear from his hospital bed.
Hundreds of thousands complied.
"It was a wonderful moment ... [which] summed up this weekend ... with some of [Britain's] best creativity, culture, music, and all at the same time," Mr. Cameron said.
Prince Charles is by no means as popular as the queen -- who has never revealed her opinions on anything, while her son seems more than happy to offer up his -- but the warmth and humanity of his speech "showed a softer side ... and seems to have strengthened his position" with the public, noted Kate Williams, a historian who was interviewed on Sky TV Tuesday.
In a recorded message broadcast repeatedly on British television, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the queen and to the special relationship between the United States and Britain, noting that "while many presidents and prime ministers have come and gone," Queen Elizabeth has remained, "living witness to the power of our alliance and a key source of its resilience."
While turnout during the four days was everything royalists and retailers could have hoped for, on the streets of Hampstead, a quiet north London neighborhood, young families pushing prams Tuesday morning seemed oblivious to the day's pageantry playing out in the central city.
Instead, many were reveling in the second of two bank holidays this week before getting back to work.
"I've been to five parties since Friday," said Jenna Thompson, 31. "I like the queen, but this was a chance to have some fun since everyone's been so down about the recession."
But Pamela Smith, 65, said while she felt loyal to this queen, she'd like to see a smaller number of royals living off taxpayers in the future.
"I was traveling in Russia recently, and saw all these empty palaces that are now tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, and I realized, here, we have a queen and her family who actually live in their own opulent palaces, and that's expensive," she said.
Still, at Euphorium, a nearby coffee shop, there was much talk of the previous night's concert, where pop replaced pomp in an impeccably choreographed light show that turned Buckingham Palace's facade into streets with buses, taxis, apartments, and people, while the group Madness pranced, preened and sang "Our House" on the roof.
Despite a fairly nonedgy lineup of talent -- Sir Tom Jones and Sir Cliff Richard, Cheryl Cole and Jessie J -- the concert was a tour de force, even if there was something of a disconnect, noted Alexis Petridis of the newspaper Guardian, since, "at the very least, pop music is still supposed to be irreverent, and the Diamond Jubilee is, by definition, an event entirely about reverence."
That reverence returned full throttle the next morning at the service in Christopher Wren's great cathedral, St. Paul's, where choirboys sang old hymns and the queen listened as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in his sermon that "she has made her public happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home at these encounters."
By early afternoon, more than a million people braved threatening skies to line the Mall, a wide boulevard leading to Buckingham Palace, to watch the queen ride home in an open carriage, a 1902 state landau.
She was to have been accompanied by her husband, but Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, joined her instead. They headed a procession of senior royal family members and the Household Cavalry horses, their hoofs slamming the pavement in deafening tribute to the monarch.
"There are some things we may not always get right as a nation, but there are some things we do brilliantly," said David Gordon, a commander in the Royal Navy, "and the Diamond Jubilee weekend is one such series of events. The 'Great' is firmly back in Great Britain and sets us up fantastically well for the London Olympics."
Four successful days of complex drills, huge crowds and tight security did seem to augur well for Britain's next big moment on the world stage in six weeks, but the weather remained the one unpredictable factor. Precisely when the queen made her final balcony appearance along with five members of her family in the direct line of succession -- Prince Charles, Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry -- the heavens opened.
No matter. The crowd roared, the queen waved and then it ended with a celebratory cascade of rifle fire and the National Anthem -- "God Save the Queen" -- along with three "hip hip hoorays" led by The Queen's Guard.
Except it's not over yet. This Diamond Jubilee stretches through the rest of 2012, and members of the royal family are fanning out all over the globe to remind the rest of the world that this monarchy still matters, deeply, to its people.
It wasn't over for the queen, either.
Tuesday night she was scheduled to host a dinner for all the governors-general of the Commonwealth, still unable to visit her husband, who will remain in the hospital for the next day or two.
Duty calls, as always.
First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 am