London going all-out for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in June

Tower Bridge wide shot: The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, a 1000-boat strong flotilla that will set sail on Sunday, June 3, will disperse downriver of the iconic Tower Bridge. Photo by Amy Laughinghouse
Tower Bridge wide shot: The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, a 1000-boat strong flotilla that will set sail on Sunday, June 3, will disperse downriver of the iconic Tower Bridge. Photo by Amy Laughinghouse
Posted: May 20, 2012

LONDON — Will and Kate who? Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating 60 years on the throne this year, and London is set to throw her a Diamond Jubilee party in June that will eclipse even last year’s royal nuptials. With the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are expected to draw nearly six million visitors between July 27 and Sept. 9, there will be more eyes trained on the city this summer than there were ogling Pippa Middleton’s derriere at her sister’s wedding.

To start things off, the government has granted a four-day holiday weekend, June 2-5, which will be jam-packed with events in Elizabeth’s honor, from a concert at Buckingham Palace to one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the Thames. In addition, several special exhibitions are already under way across London, and many will continue over the coming months.

So expect crowds. Expect lots of ridiculous hats and elderly women weeping into a hankie in one hand and waving the Union Jack with the other. Expect vendors hawking ashtrays emblazoned with the Queen’s smiling face and other cheesy tchotchkes. Expect to endure the epic deodorant failure of whomever you’re standing next to, and above all, expect rain. (This is London, after all.)

But you can also count on one heck of a party. So break out the bunting, and don’t forget to pack your big foam finger.

June 2: Epsom Derby

Will Liz get lucky on her big Jubilee weekend? No word on whether she’ll be placing a wager, but the Queen will be the guest of honor at the Epsom Derby, the greatest flat race in the world. Dating to 1780, the Derby boasts winnings of £1.25 million ($2 million), one of the biggest purses in the United Kingdom. Grandstand Enclosure tickets are £50 ($81), but there are less-expensive ways to view the race (www.epsomdowns.co.uk).

June 3: Thames Pageant, the Big Lunch

Street parties around the U.K. — and, in fact, around the world — will be staged as part of “the Big Lunch,” which is basically a great excuse to host a potluck meal with friends. Celebrate wherever you may be with a steaming pot of Earl Grey, a smattering of scones, and a glass of champagne to toast the Queen’s health — as if you needed an excuse to break open the bubbly (www.thebiglunch.com).

But the event most likely to “buoy” interest is the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. At least one million people will gather on the riverbanks to cheer the Queen as she leads 1,000 boats on a route stretching more than 13 miles, from Hammersmith to Greenwich Royal Naval College, including mustering and dispersal areas. With fireworks, bands, and bells bonging away on a floating belfry, think of it as a maritime Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade — although (presumably) minus giant helium-filled balloons of the royal family.

One of the best places to get a gander at the armada is Battersea Park, which will host a festival with music and dancing, retro makeovers (if you fancy transforming yourself into a ’50s-style pinup), and vintage clothing, accessories, and collectibles for sale. The lead vessel is expected to pass under Battersea Rail Bridge about 2:30 p.m., but arrive early to secure a good spot. Adults £5 ($8); free for children 12 and younger (www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org).

For bird’s-eye views of the Thames, head to Altitude at Millbank Tower for a 28th-floor “Street Party in the Sky” with a DJ, cash bar, and picnic box for two, for £50 ($81) per person (www.altitudelondon.com/jubilee).

June 4: BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace

Olympic tickets might be hard to come by, but “Diamond Tickets” to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert are impossibly precious. Only 10,000 were issued, and those spots have already been snapped up. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with the televised performances of big names with even bigger lungs, like Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, and, rather surprising, Jessie J. Who knew the Queen was such a fan of “Do It Like a Dude”?

The concert will culminate with the Queen’s lighting a National Beacon. In the United States, ABC will broadcast highlights the next day.

June 5: Carriage Procession and Balcony Appearance

Unfortunately, Liz can’t afford to party like — or even with — a rock star after Monday night’s concert, as she’ll be strapping on her tiara bright and early Tuesday. She and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, will attend a National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by a reception at Mansion House. Then the Queen and Duke will head to Westminster Hall for a Diamond Jubilee lunch with Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince William and Kate, and Prince Harry.

Afterward, flag-waving well-wishers (this means you) can catch a glimpse of the royal posse as they head back to Buckingham Palace. The party will depart Westminster via New Palace Yard, clip-clopping in carriages along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch and down the Mall, through the Centre Gates at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by military bands and a 60-gun salute. Later, the Queen will appear on a palace balcony to watch an RAF fly-by and a celebratory barrage of rifle fire. Only then can she kick off her shoes, toss her crown on the nightstand, and sleep like a queen (www.thediamondjubilee.org).

Special Exhibitions

The Queen: 60 Photographs for 60 Years. Windsor Castle showcases photos depicting a moment from each year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, from official events to family gatherings. Entry also includes the State Apartments, St. George’s Chapel, and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House — a remarkable masterpiece in miniature. Through Oct. 28. Adults £17 ($28); children 5-17 £10.20 ($17); younger than 5 free (www.royalcollection.org.uk).

The Queen: Art and Image. The National Portrait Gallery highlights images of the Queen by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Lucian Freud, Annie Leibovitz, and Andy Warhol. May 17 to Oct. 21. Adults £6 ($10); children 12-18 £5 ($8); younger than 12 free (www.npg.org.uk).

Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration.The doors to Buckingham Palace’s glittering State Rooms are open to the public every summer, but this year, they’ll sparkle a little more with an unprecedented display of the Queen’s personal jewels, June 30 to July 8 and July 31 to Oct. 7. Adults £18 ($29); children 5-17 £10.25 ($17); younger than 5 free (www.royalcollection.org.uk).

Kensington Palace Celebrates the Diamond Jubilee. Kensington Palace has recently emerged from a £12 million ($19.5 million) renovation with three new exhibits. “Jubilee: A View from the Crowd,” about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria (the only other British monarch to reach this milestone) runs May 24 to Oct. 31. “Victoria Revealed,” featuring personal artifacts from Queen Victoria, should run through the end of the year. The third exhibit, with five of Princess Diana’s dresses, runs through Sept. 2. Adults £14.50 ($24); children 15 and younger free (www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace).

Tower tour. Steal a glimpse of the Crown Jewels — a glittering array counting more than 23,000 diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires — at a revamped exhibition at the Jewel House within the Tower of London. Adults £20.90 ($34); children 5-15 £10.45 ($17); younger than 5 free (www.hrp.org.uk/TowerofLondon).

Tea it up. The Berkeley’s “Prêt-à-Portea — The Royal Collection” is a feast fit for a queen, with biscuits, buns, and other tasty (and tasteful) treats fashioned in the forms of the royal family’s most memorable accessories. From £36.50 ($59) May 29 to June 9 (www.the-berkeley.co.uk).

Amy Laughinghouse is an American writer living in England.

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