A pageant is “a spectacular procession performed in the open illustrating historical events” or simply “a brilliant spectacle”, according to the Oxford dictionary. Well yes, yesterday’s Queen’s Jubilee River pageant was indeed a momentous procession performed along the River Thames. History came into it, as did geography (with major Commonwealth and minor European representation), as over 1,000 boats of all sizes and shapes flowed fast and furious along the muddy waters of central London.
BUT, true to form, the English weather did not cooperate. It was so dire that some boat participants were later hospitalised for hypothermia. There was still an unbeatable spirit which I hope comes through in these colourless pics. I was lucky enough, thanks to my illustrious journalist partner, to have a media spot on Southwark Bridge, looking west towards Blackfriars Bridge (now roofed over with solar panels – a world first for bridges, hurray!), with the Tate Modern and Globe Theatre on the left and St Pauls looming to the right. Behind us the towering, unfinished Shard disappeared into the cloud. So we were far removed from the hundreds of thousands of citizens and tourists fighting to get a glimpse of the action along the river banks.
Instead we were up there with a surreal assortment of agency snappers, military cadets and mainly Commonwealth guests – from what we could make out. Spirits and expectancy were high, despite the grey skies and biting easterly wind, some wine flowed (those Aussies—), Union Jacks fluttered in all directions and adorned endless body parts, relaxed policeman fraternised. On either side of the river, every balcony, rooftop and possible viewpoint was packed. This brought true Brit inventivity to the fore: some of those that couldn’t get a standing spot ended up cycling back and forth across the bridge (open to traffic) hoping to glimpse the action below. Boris bikes (rental bikes) did good business.
Bang on time, as the clouds thickened menacingly, the Post Office Tower disappeared into the clouds and temperatures continued to plummet, the first boat came into view. Huge, sonorous church bells suspended over its deck rang out – a moving prelude. Soon after came the royal barge laden with its family, skiffs, a gondola, little tugs giving a smokey toot of a salute, yachts, motor-launches, barges, a paddle-steamer, various orchestras and bands (including the Indian bagpipers who by then were sadly forced to retreat below deck as the showers became a deluge) and altogether an incredible maritime display.
But that weather, that rain, it just washed out the gloss of the pageant. The Queen lost her smile (impressively she stood for the entire 1 1/2-hour journey) and tightened her shawl and some of the boat people even huddled under umbrellas – as did we up on our bridge. Damp squid? Wet blanket? Above all an incredible shame that such organisation and effusive participation from all and sundry was washed out. A week ago we were sweltering in exceptional temperatures. Oh England, is our god not a royalist?