Royal Celebration Series: 2002, The Golden Jubilee

In 2017, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will have been our Queen for 65 years. She will become the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee.

In this blog series we’re looking back at key anniversaries from The Queen’s reign. In the first installment we took a look at The Queen’s Accession to the throne in 1952. Then, in our last installment, we looked at the celebrations for her Silver Jubilee in 1977. Now we move forwards to 2002, and The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee celebrations in London 2002 (F Lodge / Alamy Stock Photo)

It’s fair to say that 2002 was a different social and political landscape to 1977. This was reflected in public perception of the Royal Family. People questioned how relevant they were. So how would the Golden Jubilee celebrations compare to the Silver Jubilee? Did the public still have the same level of affection for their monarchy as had been the case 25 years earlier? Indeed, sections of the British media predicted that the Golden Jubilee would be a non-event, a failure even.

This difficult backdrop was compounded by two sad and personal losses for the Royal Family, and The Queen in particular. In February Her Majesty’s sister Princess Margaret died at the age of 71 after suffering a stroke. Then, seven weeks later, came the death of The Queen Mother. The mood was sombre, and the relationship between monarchy and public was reportedly more distant than had previously been the case.

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Shortly after the death of her sister, The Queen embarked on a pre-planned tour of Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia, accompanied by Prince Philip. These were the first official engagements of the Golden Jubilee. The royal party returned to the UK in early March. Following the blow of the death of The Queen Mother in March, the Royal Family entered a period of mourning that was observed across the Commonwealth. The Queen Mother’s funeral was held in Westminster Abbey on 9 April, followed by a procession to Windsor Castle. The Queen Mother was laid to rest beside her husband, George VI, and younger daughter, Princess Margaret in St George’s Chapel. Over a million people lined the 23 mile route from central London to Windsor to pay their respects. Perhaps the relationship between the monarchy and the people wasn’t so distant after all?

Thousands of mourners watch the ceremonial procession to Westminster Abbey during the funeral of the Queen Mother in central London, April 9, 2002. (REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)

Despite these personal tragedies, Her Majesty wanted the Golden Jubilee to be a celebration of her 50 year reign and a chance to thank her people for their loyalty. On 1 May, The Queen began a tour of the UK, which took in all corners of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Golden Jubilee Weekend took place between 1 and 4 June.

The celebration was a huge success. More than two million people applied for the 12,500 tickets available for ‘The Prom at the Palace’ on the Saturday night. The following day, 3 June, communities took part in street parties across the country before The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and other members of The Royal Family attended ‘The Party at the Palace’. Queen guitarist Brian May, who uses a Royal Mint Silver Sixpence as a plectrum, played the National Anthem from the roof of Buckingham Palace, before stars such as Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones entertained a crowd of 12,000 within the Palace. They were joined by a million people watching on big screens from the Mall and the royal parks, and a further 200 million people who tuned in around the world to watch the event on television.

The Queen’s Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace, video screen of Brian May who played the National Anthem. (Alan Weller / Alamy Stock Photo)

A National Service of Thanksgiving on 4 June was followed by a Jubilee Procession on the Mall. This concluded with the Royal Family assembled on the Buckingham Palace balcony to watch a flyby of every type of Royal Air Force aircraft in active service, accompanied by Concorde and the Red Arrows. Again, the Royal Family were joined by more than a million people assembled on the Mall.

Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh travel along Mall during Golden Jubilee celebrations in London in 2002 (Howard Sayer / Alamy Stock Photo)

At a lunch at the Guildhall during the Golden Jubilee Weekend, Her Majesty gave a speech where she thanked the nation for their support and loyalty:

“I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you – here in Guildhall, those of you waiting in the Mall and the streets of London, and all those up and down this country and throughout the Commonwealth, who may be watching this on television. Thank you all for your enthusiasm to mark and celebrate these past fifty years.

Gratitude, respect and pride, these words sum up how I feel about the people of this country and the Commonwealth – and what this Golden Jubilee means to me”

Celebration. Thanks. Enthusiasm. Respect. Pride. These are the key sentiments that Her Majesty wished to express to her people across the UK and wider Commonwealth through her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Judging by the crowds who attended both the official and more local, personal events, they are sentiments that were echoed around the world. The people had come out to celebrate with Her Majesty, in recognition of her Golden Jubilee and perhaps too in compassion for the personal losses she endured earlier in the year.

15 years later, in 2017 we turn our attentions to a landmark event in British history, as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the first British monarch to celebrate 65 years on the throne; the first Sapphire Jubilee in our history.

Next in our Royal Celebration Series: We take a look back to 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

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