The life of Queen Elizabeth II, Final years: Pomp and pageantry marked very special royal occasions

·5-min read
The Royal Family watch the RAF flypast on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018 (Getty Images)
The Royal Family watch the RAF flypast on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018 (Getty Images)

With a few heartfelt and carefully chosen words, the Prince of Wales spoke for the nation as he paid a touching tribute to his mother on her 90th birthday.

In April 2016, Her Majesty — accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — was joined by crowds of well-wishers in the shadow of Windsor Castle, to light the first of 1,000 beacons in her honour.

Her eldest son and heir, Charles, wished our first-ever nonagenarian monarch the “most special and happiest of birthdays”. He spoke too of the love and affection for her throughout the country and the Commonwealth. He could not have put it better.

Drawing a laugh from the crowd by calling her “Mummy” — his affectionate introduction for the Queen during the royal celebrations — Charles added “and long may she reign over us”. It was a sentiment shared by all those who heard it there and live on television.

He then called for three cheers and the crowd duly obliged. With that, the prince handed the torch to the Queen and invited her to light the principal beacon on a six-metre pole at the start of the Long Walk.

After the lighting was over, Her Majesty, Prince Charles, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Cornwall were driven back to the castle for her birthday party of 60 special guests. It had been a long and joyous day for the Queen.

On the evenings of May 12-15 there was a 90-minute-long pageant in Home Park at Windsor Castle. The extravaganza included 900 horses and more than 1,500 riders and performers highlighting the Queen’s love of horses, her dedication to the Commonwealth and her involvement with the Royal Navy, Army and RAF.

Queen Elizabeth II departs following the A Gallop Through History Platinum Jubilee celebration (PA)
Queen Elizabeth II departs following the A Gallop Through History Platinum Jubilee celebration (PA)

In June, there was a weekend of national celebration to mark the Queen’s official birthday and, unofficially, the Duke of Edinburgh’s 95th birthday. On June 10, a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral was held. It may have been his birthday but he did not want any public celebration of the date for him.

On June 11 there was Trooping the Colour — the official annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday with Prince George and Princess Charlotte joining the Queen and the other members of the royal family on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

At the Queen’s birthday parade, she inspected soldiers from the Household Division on Horse Guards Parade behind Whitehall. Finally, on June 12, the people had another chance to join in the birthday celebrations. The Patron’s Lunch was the climax of the Queen’s birthday celebrations. The Mall was transformed into a giant street party for 10,000 guests who were left drenched by downpours. They donned ponchos and tucked into a picnic lunch and were entertained by street performers and circus acts.

The Queen’s final years were not without drama. In 2019, Philip was involved in a car crash while driving near Sandringham. Then, the following year, Philip and the Queen suffered family heartache when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided to quit their senior royal roles. In a bombshell announcement on January 8, 2020, Harry and Meghan revealed that they would “step back”, work towards financial independence and divide their time between Britain and North America.

The Queen, who let it be known that she was “disappointed” by the decision, called a summit at Sandringham to thrash out the details of the split, which became known as Megxit. In the following days it was agreed that the couple could keep but not use their HRH titles.

In a rare and emotional personal statement the Queen said Harry, Meghan and their son Archie “will always be much loved members of my family” adding that she supported “their wish for a more independent life.”

Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat for the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in St George's Chapel (PA)
Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat for the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in St George's Chapel (PA)

In April 2021 the Queen lost her “strength and stay” when the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years, died aged 99. The Duke spent his final days with the Queen at Windsor after a 28-night stay in hospital, having been admitted in mid-February for an infection and a pre-existing heart condition.

They had been married since 1947 in one of the most enduring partnerships of all time on the world stage.

The Queen’s continued issues with her mobility in 2022 had led to more talk of the transition of the Crown. Indeed, unlike the Golden Jubilee a decade before, when she was ever present, the Queen, on doctors’ advice, had to pick her Platinum celebration engagements carefully. She was there at the outset with a palace balcony appearance alongside her family for Trooping the Colour and surprised some by turning out for the lighting of the first beacon at Windsor. But she didn’t attend the special service at St Paul’s, where once again Charles took the lead as she watched on television.

The Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince George and the Duke of Cambridge, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant (PA)
The Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince George and the Duke of Cambridge, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant (PA)

But for the discussions about a transition of the Crown, Charles, used his address to make it clear that she remained in charge; and that he was there to support his mother. He got to his feet after the Platinum Party at The Palace concert that went out live on the BBC and praised his mother for her duty. When you get to 96-years-old and celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, Charles reminded the crowd: “You continue to make history.”

He went on: “You are our head of state. And you are also our mother,” he said. There was also rightly a loving acknowledgement of his late “Papa”. Charles’s message was one of celebration, of praising the woman behind the crown, Elizabeth II, and all that she had achieved. “You laugh and cry with us and, most importantly, you have been there for us, for these 70 years. You pledged to serve your whole life — you continue to deliver,” the prince said.

But, perhaps, the abiding memory of the weekend, apart from the roar of the crowd as she appeared once again in person after the pageant, was her acceptance of new technology, enabling her to talk to another icon, Paddington Bear. She was seen on screen chatting to the bear and pulling a marmalade sandwich from her handbag. It was a charming sequence that will live with all who witnessed it.