LONDON Millions of Britons are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign this weekend, putting to rest talk that the monarchy is on its last legs.
A pair of concerts one classical, the other pop and rock at Buckingham Palace, a carnival on the Mall featuring 25,000 performers and hundreds of street parties in flag-festooned towns and villages across the land this four-day holiday weekend are the culmination of four months of jubilee festivities.
Even for soccer-crazed Britons, the queen’s jubilee eclipsed the opening of the World Cup in Seoul yesterday.
Admirers from all over the world will light more than 1,800 beacons in the queen’s honor. One of those is in Kenya, where Princess Elizabeth climbed the stairs at Treetops lodge on Feb. 5, 1952 and descended as Queen Elizabeth the next morning after the death of her father, King George VI.
For the past 500 years, the turn of each century has witnessed a growth in complaints about the monarchy. The close of the 20th century was no different, with complaints about too many royals, too many divorces and scandals, too many castles, too little income tax paid by the queen.
Even palace advisers fretted about whether the festive fireworks of this jubilee would turn into a damp squib, even whether they could give away all of the 25,000 tickets available for the two Buckingham concerts.
They ended up having to turn away 2 million applicants.
That, with a series of public opinion polls showing a sharp rise in royal popularity, particularly for the queen and her eldest son and heir-designate, Prince Charles, has silenced republican sentiment while reducing anti-monarchists to grumbling under their collective breath.
Hundreds of towns, villages and hamlets are awash in red, white and blue bunting, Union Jack standards, and flags with England’s cross of St. George and the Welsh dragon.
But it is in London that pageantry is peaking. The first of more than 250,000 out-of-towners began flooding the city yesterday to join the capital’s residents, many riding its famous red double-deck buses, freshly repainted in gold in the queen’s honor.
The concert of the classics at Buckingham Palace tonight is the first big set-piece event, followed by the pop and rock concert Monday, where Queen Elizabeth is expected to take the stage alongside former Beatle Paul McCartney and join in a singalong of the Beatles’ hit tune, “All You Need Is Love.”
The former wild man of heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne, will be there along with Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin and aging Welsh heartthrob Tom Jones.
Pop stars are falling over themselves to take part, including other veteran British rockers Eric Clapton, Ray Davies of the Kinks, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Phil Collins and Annie Lennox.
Also on the bill: Americans Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson and Shirley Bassey.
“We have taken the very best of advice, mainly from the BBC,” a palace official told the Guardian newspaper.
The concert, to be televised live to an estimated worldwide audience of 200 million, is scheduled to run for more than three hours.
On the Mall, which stretches to the east from the palace, a street carnival including bagpipe bands and a gospel choir of more than 5,000 singers will entertain the queen and the hundreds of thousands of spectators there trying to catch a glimpse of royalty perhaps even one of their favorites, the queen’s grandson, Prince William.
The queen will take that same route in the royal Gold Coach (it is insured, but the first $90 million is deductible) for the first time in a quarter of a century, through central London to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a special jubilee service.
Meanwhile, half a world away, on the Pacific island of Tonga, a beacon will be lit in the first minute of Monday, the first of 1,000 to be set alight by scientists in the Antarctic, schoolchildren north of the Arctic Circle, on tiny Benguerra island off Mozambique, as well as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and a score of other nations around the world.
Hours later in London, Queen Elizabeth will light the final beacon the signal for 2 tons of fireworks to be triggered from the roof of Buckingham Palace and surrounding gardens, culminating in a flame waterfall effect on the palace front wall, fading to reveal the words:
“God Save The Queen.”
“And so,” one pundit said, “say all of us.”