The life of Queen Elizabeth II, the Seventies: The Jubilee years

·7-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When the Queen returned to Australia and New Zealand in 1970, her new team of advisers were determined that this tour would be different. They came up with the idea of closer interaction between the Queen and the crowds — something she had advocated for years, but which had been vetoed for security concerns.

The new plan meant that she would step out of the car before an appointment to meet and greet people in the crowd, many of whom had waited hours for a glimpse of her — it was dubbed “going walkabout”.

Seeing Her Majesty close up and talking to individuals created tremendous excitement. When children started appearing in the crowd with posies to present to the Queen, the royal household knew the idea had caught on. “Walkabout” has since become a standard feature for the Queen and members of the Royal Family on foreign visits.

Australia and New Zealand’s relationship with Britain has always been strong, with the economies of the two countries closely tied to the UK. However, after the Second World War both countries began to develop a belief in their own identity and their governments forged closer links with the countries around them; a relaxation in immigration policies also accelerated a change in their relationship with the UK and the Crown.

Queen Elizabeth II meets Maoris in New Zealand 1977 (Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II meets Maoris in New Zealand 1977 (Getty Images)

The Queen was still popular, but by the time she returned to Australia in 1973 to open the Sydney Opera House republicanism was very much on the agenda.

Two years later, in 1975, an incident occurred that would send republican support rocketing. Australia’s Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was at a political crossroads — his scandal-hit government was under pressure, engulfed by economic problems. A constitutional crisis ensued when the Liberal opponent, Malcolm Fraser, blocked Mr Whitlam’s plans for reforms in Australia’s Senate.

Without consulting the Queen and breaking 75 years of political convention, the Governor-General, John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister and invited Mr Fraser to form a caretaker government until elections could be held. Although Mr Kerr was the Queen’s representative in Australia, he alone took this decision.

It ballooned into a full-scale constitutional crisis as Whitlam appealed to the Queen for help, dragging her into the political storm, knowing before he did so that her hands were tied. Constitutionally the Queen could not interfere with the Governor-General’s tenure except on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister.

The Australian public, meanwhile, was outraged, furious that their national and political independence could be threatened by what was seen as a ceremonial figurehead from a bygone colonial age. The episode fanned the flames of republican feeling for decades.

The 1970s holds the record for the most mileage undertaken by the Queen. Commonwealth visits reached a total of 54, including the 1976 Summer Olympics in Canada, and 25 state visits took place, from Turkey in 1971 to Zambia in 1979.

The Queen on board HMY Britannia in March 1972 (Lichfield/Getty Images)
The Queen on board HMY Britannia in March 1972 (Lichfield/Getty Images)

In 1971 the Queen made her first tour of South East Asia, and included state visits to Singapore and Malaysia. The Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne sailed aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia to Kuala Lumpur, and then on to the states of Sarawak and Sabah. Here, they were greeted by members of the formerly fearsome, head-hunting Murat tribe, standing guard with six-foot blowpipes.

On the same royal tour, the Queen made her first trip to the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam on the northern tip of Borneo, a British protectorate from 1888. It gained its independence on January 1, 1984, and joined the Commonwealth the same year.

In January 1974, together with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, the Queen attended the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand. The tour included a visit to Australia, the British Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Back home, the 1970s was a personally happy decade for the Queen. In 1972, Her Majesty and Prince Philip celebrated 25 years of marriage.

The Duke of Edinburgh on board HMY Britannia in March 1972 (Lichfield/Getty Images)
The Duke of Edinburgh on board HMY Britannia in March 1972 (Lichfield/Getty Images)

The following year her daughter, Princess Anne, aged 23, wed fellow equestrian Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in November. Hundreds of thousands turned out on the streets to cheer the couple and an estimated 500 million television viewers tuned in to watch the ceremony.

On June 7, 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years on the throne, was celebrated at every level throughout the country and Commonwealth.

There was some disquiet in the media and public about the cost, but when the moment came to party, the historic anniversary aroused strong feelings of loyalty, and was celebrated with street parties.

About a million well-wishers lined the streets to watch the Queen and the Royal Family on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service. The Queen, dressed in pink and accompanied by Prince Philip, led the procession in the golden state coach.

Queen Elizabeth II, Silver Jubilee Street Party in Belfast 1977 (Colin Jones/Topfoto)
Queen Elizabeth II, Silver Jubilee Street Party in Belfast 1977 (Colin Jones/Topfoto)

Despite the rain, thousands had camped out overnight to get a better view of the procession as it made its way down the Mall and through Trafalgar Square, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill.

Inside the cathedral 2,700 guests, including politicians and other heads of state, joined in the ceremony. It began with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of the hymn All people that on Earth do Dwell, which was also played at the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

During her speech at lunch, the Queen said movingly, “When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people and asked for God’s help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.” It would also be a memorable year for Her Majesty as she became a grandmother for the first time upon the arrival of Peter Phillips, the first child of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips.

With the Queen as monarch and Margaret Thatcher becoming the first female prime minister in 1979, the two most important positions in the running of the country were now occupied by women. But Her Majesty’s relationship with Mrs Thatcher was, reportedly, strained.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attend a ball to celebrate the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted by President Kenneth Kaunda on August 1, 1979 (Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attend a ball to celebrate the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted by President Kenneth Kaunda on August 1, 1979 (Getty Images)

In 1979, the Queen had a public dispute with Mrs Thatcher about attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. At the time, nationalist guerillas were fighting the white-minority government of Rhodesia for greater voting and political power for black Africans.

With some of the guerillas basing themselves in Zambia, Mrs Thatcher announced to the press that, for security reasons, the Queen should not attend the meeting. There had been no prior consultation.

Within 24 hours, Buckingham Palace issued its own statement, saying that the Queen had “every intention” of going. The Queen had never been to Zambia and felt its president, Kenneth Kaunda, needed her support.

Shortly before the Queen was due to arrive, a bomb exploded near Kaunda’s offices. The Queen nonetheless stuck to her plans and on arrival in Lusaka was greeted by huge, cheering crowds.

During the summit, she played an important conciliatory role, which resulted in Britain agreeing to new Rhodesian elections under a new constitution. Kaunda would later say: “At the Lusaka meeting in 1979, she played a very vital role. The Queen is an outstanding diplomat; that’s how she gets things done.”

The former Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal agreed. “The Rhodesia issue threatened to tear the Commonwealth apart,” he said. “At a crucial time, the Queen demonstrated her stabilising influence. She was diplomatically brilliant.”

In 2002 Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth over vote-rigging and human rights abuses. The following year, Robert Mugabe decided to withdraw from the association altogether. At the time, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, said the suspension of Zimbabwe was a victory for Commonwealth values, but added, “There will always be a place for a democratic Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth.”

Zimbabwe began talks with the UK about readmission to the Commonwealth after the fall of Mr Mugabe in 2017.