Britain’s Royal Jubilee — It’s about tradition not celebrity

John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — The world needs a good party and reason to forget, even fleetingly, the conflicts, crises and economic doldrums which have befallen us. Thus Britain’s Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II brings us that wistful respite but more importantly a lesson; that tradition trumps trendy, and often celebrity too.

The pomp and pageantry of the four day spectacle including the magisterial Thames River flotilla (in the midst of a driving London wind and cold rain) saw the Royal Family cheered on by over a million well-wishers, and flanked by a thousand boats. The local block parties, the bonfires, and the bunting all form part of the ageless magic which renews and revives a country.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth waves as she stands with Prince William, 2nd right, Prince Charles, left, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, right on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to mark her Diamond Jubilee in London on June 5. /Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Such royal pageantry provides the perfect place to celebrate. The massive concert outside Buckingham Palace, with both classical and pop stars set to a son and lumiere spectacle, showcased festivities for a modern monarchy. A day later the ceremonial finale on the Buckingham Palace balcony closed the curtains after four days of resplendent pageantry.

Thus the magnificent and splendid spectacles in London commemorating Queen Elizabeth are as much about this amazing woman of dignity and duty as they are the chance for the British and people throughout many former colonies, in the multi-cultural fifty-four member Commonwealth from Australia, to African states, Canada and the Caribbean islands, to celebrate.

The Diamond Jubilee in itself is historic being only the second time since Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 that there was such a celebration.

Let’s face it, the regal portrayal of Britain’s classy monarchical grandeur is still something with near global appeal. The House of Windsor (originally the German House of Hanover and later Saxe-Coburg) re-branded in 1917 during WWI with a more John Bull British theme, embodies an enduring legacy of excellence, symbolism, and tradition.

But Elizabeth, now 86, has been the lady of destiny and duty since she unexpectedly became Queen in 1952 upon the death of her father George VI, the wartime King, who was respectfully portrayed in the recent film the King’s Speech. She has been on the throne for 60 years, has seen 12 Prime Ministers (and 11 American presidents too). But keep in mind she is a constitutional monarch whose ceremonial power and public service role dare not cross into the political realm.

The weekly Spectator, opined that the Jubilee provides “an extraordinary celebration of monarchy, which is a testament to the Queen’s brilliance at reinvention as much as it is affection for her long service.”

We tend to think that there are only but a few monarchs left in the world today, beyond the Queen of England and the Emperor of Japan. Yet there are still many monarchs in Europe, ranging from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to Belgium, Spain and Denmark, Norway and Sweden. There’s the King of Morocco. And indeed monarchy has been a reliable pillar of state in both Thailand and Japan.

In 1977, I was in London for the Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of Elizabeth’s rule. But this was a very different Britain, beset by strikes and in the stranglehold of the trade unions. The party went on but in a much more nervous and some would say, sullen land.

While critics, then and now, including a vocal minority in the United Kingdom itself, like to complain about the cost of the Monarchy, let’s face it the Windsor Brand is wonderful for tourism, the tabloids, and a kind of national feel-good therapy.

During her six decade reign, the Queen and her husband Prince Philip have traveled the world, visiting both former colonies, independent states, and not all without Controversary. Last year, Elizabeth made a long overdue historic and healing visit to the Republic of Ireland.

“Celebrity and Monarchy are natural enemies,” writes John O’Sullivan in the Wall St. Journal, “the first is about enjoying fame, the second is about performing duties. Elizabeth always realized the distinction.” And it was the celebrity status of Princess Diana, whose auto accident in 1997, and the Queen’s initial distance and stoic emotion over the tragedy, that saw the Monarchy swerve into a bad brush with British public opinion. Through the winds of adversity Queen Elizabeth always seemed to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Nonetheless the younger royals such as Prince William and Harry have revived the appeal as witnessed by the worldwide reaction to Prince William’s wedding last year to the popular Kate Middleton.

Americans love the pomp and ceremony of the British monarchy. But our independence from Britain was rooted in reaction to an overbearing and incompetent King George III, the desire for individual liberty, freedom, and the aspirations that we could do better. Indeed we did.

Yet, to our transatlantic cousins we say, Godspeed.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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