Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Sapphire Queen: Elizabeth II's landmarks, the Golden Jubilee

The Queen during her Golden Jubilee tour of Canada in 2002
(photo Michael Chu via Flickr)

The Queen is about to become the first British monarch to mark a Sapphire anniversary, 65 years on the throne. Ahead of that, here's a chance to look back at some other landmarks in her reign. Yesterday was all about the Silver Jubilee while today looks at perhaps the most difficult of the major milestones for the Queen, her Golden Jubilee. The celebrations for 50 years of Elizabeth II came in the year her mother and sister died while the Monarchy itself was still recovering from a decade of unhappy times that had seen three royal divorces and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Despite predictions the Golden Jubilee would be a disaster, it turned into a triumph. Here's how the Queen marked half a century of rule.

The Golden Jubilee Year began, as the celebrations for the Silver had in 1977, with the first part of a Commonwealth tour. The Queen visited Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia in the early months of 2002 as she became the first British monarch since Victoria to mark a Golden Jubilee.

However, the tour was shrouded in sadness - just nine days before arriving in Jamaica, the Queen had lost her only sister. Princess Margaret died on February 9th 2002 and her funeral was held at Windsor on February 15th. Elizabeth II, Queen and big sister, touched down on her tour on February 18th 2002. It was a hard start to a major public round of celebrations.

There was more sadness for the Queen on her return from Australia at the start of March. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother died at the age of 101 on March 30th 2002. Her funeral at Westminster Abbey on April 9th saw over a million people line the streets to watch her coffin pass. She was buried at Windsor next to George VI and Princess Margaret. In the year of her Golden Jubilee, the Queen had become the last remaining member of her happy little royal family, 'us four'.

Despite her personal sadness, the Queen took part in all the Golden Jubilee events planned for that year.  In the weeks following the death of her mother, she began a series of visits to places across the UK to celebrate her landmark with people throughout the country, just as she had in 1977.

At the end of April, she attended a dinner at 10 Downing Street hosted by then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and attended by three other former premiers.

Elizabeth II, with the Duke of Edinburgh at her side, addressed a joint session of the Houses of Parliament held in Westminster Hall. All this just weeks after losing her mother and sister. The human side of the Queen was perhaps never as much at the forefront of people's minds as it had been in those difficult weeks when her personal grief lived side by side with national and constitutional celebrations for her reign.

If the Silver Jubilee was the people's party, the Golden Jubilee took on a more formal and historic tone - after all, Elizabeth II was only the fourth monarch in British history to celebrate half a century of rule and the first since 1887 to reach the milestone. There was a special parade of members of all three armed forces in Portsmouth and garden parties for people born on the day she became Queen.

The main celebrations were in June, around her official birthday, when over a million people took to the streets of London to party.  The first big event of this weekend was the Prom at the Palace where thousands of people enjoyed a night of classical music at Buckingham Palace.

The Party at the Palace two nights later saw thousands attend a concert of modern music with Brian May famously taking to the roof of Buckingham Palace to play the National Anthem.

Jubilees mean beacons and the Queen lit the last of a series of beacons - a tradition we've become used to. This time the chain linked up at the bottom of the Victoria monument - a reminder of the last monarch to make this milestone.

Hundreds of thousands packed the Mall for the party and the firework display which lit up the night sky once the Queen had started the final beacon.

The Golden State Coach carried the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to St Paul's Cathedral on June 4th 2002 for a National Service of Thanksgiving.

There was a carnival in the Mall with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh taking a modern route through the crowds and acknowledging those who had come to celebrate with them from an open top car.

There was more poignancy as, for the first time, Elizabeth II stepped out on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace to greet the huge crowd without either her mother or sister there to share the moment. At one point, she seemed almost overcome by the emotion of the event.

There was also a special banquet for all the reigning monarchs of Europe, held at Windsor Castle and resulting in a classic photo for the history books.

The Golden Jubilee year ended, as the Silver celebrations had in 1977, with a tour of Canada where the Queen was greeted by a big turnout in a series of stops.

The Golden Jubilee was hugely successful, with large crowds joining the celebrations and an air of gladness and gratitude as the Queen's reign reached another milestone. In some ways, it was a turning point for the House of Windsor and marked the beginning of a new, happier era. The Royal Family was safe in the nation's affections and the country learned a new way to party - after the crepe paper and homemade jelly of 1977, things got much more sophisticated in 2002. It paved the way for another high point in 2012 and another landmark celebration.

There will be another landmark celebrated here tomorrow in the week Elizabeth II becomes the Sapphire Queen.

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