Free and open to everyone, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 will eclipse the London Games, says Robert Hardman — an unforgettable tribute to the monarch
Millions gathered on the streets; people of every generation from every background joining in the fun; all the corners of the kingdom united in one thoroughly British occasion... 2012 really is going to see one hell of a party. In fact, buy your Union flags now because there won’t be any left by then.
And hang on to them. Because you might just need them for the follow-on event — the supporting gig otherwise known as the London Olympics. Yes, the Games will produce great scenes and big cheers for the endeavours of ‘Team GB’. But even louder will be the reception for an elderly woman whose performance will be remembered for much longer than any sporting moment at the London Games.
Olympics come and go every four years and, every 50 years or so, they end up in London. Up to now, only one monarch in history has celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. So when the Queen reaches her 60th year on the throne in 2012, the celebrations will be truly momentous. Just as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 was an occasion for monumental imperial festivities, so we can expect a similar outpouring of affection for her great-great-granddaughter.
And the occasion will have one insuperable advantage over the Olympics. The Jubilee will be open to everyone and it will cost nothing whereas the Games come with a projected £9.3 billion (or is it £20 billion?) price tag. And you don’t get in without a ticket. In the feverish summer of 2012, the public will not be slow to appreciate the contrast. Politicians, take note.
Right now, as the country still glows in the aftermath of that medal haul in Beijing, the London Games are being touted as some sort of panacea for all Britain’s ills. Politicians are queuing up to declare how 2012 will ‘showcase’ Britain as a ‘vibrant’ land of new model world citizens. Writing in these pages three weeks ago, Liam Byrne, the Minister for Immigration, argued: ‘The London Olympics will be an extraordinary stage on which to set out our national story.’
Well, don’t get too carried away. Medals aside, the main reason that the Beijing Games have seemed so magical is that we have not been organising them or paying for them. Come 2012, the London Games will have cost at least £1,000 for every man, woman and child in London — and that is the optimistic figure. Since London won the bid in 2005, the budget has soared from £2.4 billion to £9.3 billion. If the authorities can quadruple it in three years, then what can they do in the next four? Just four months ago, ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone admitted that London’s bid had been a ruse. ‘I didn’t bid because I wanted three weeks of sport’, he scoffed on live television. He did it ‘to ensnare the government to put money into an area it has neglected’. However much Boris Johnson pledges to count the pennies, we are all ensnared now. Jack Lemley, former chairman of London’s Olympic Delivery Authority, predicts a bill of £20 billion.
There will be furious arguments, too, over the tone of the event. We might all be agreed on one thing: we do not want to mimic China’s soulless, totalitarian grandeur. But what should we include in our opening ceremony? The Brigade of Guards or breakdancing? Whiff-whaff or riff-raff? Elton or Elgar? Britain has stamped so many marks on the world — from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, from the train and the television to Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine — that countless deserving national heroes will have to be omitted. I do not envy Boris his mayoral dilemmas.
More divisive, still, will be the ticket allocation. Londoners will expect the lion’s share. The rest of Britain will demand a national allocation. In the end, of course, the best seats will go to the corporate sponsors and VIP legions who surface at every Olympics. If the opening ceremony mirrors the launch of London’s other recent megaprojects — Terminal 5 and the Dome — we will all be better off at home anyway.
Fortunately, we will have another great national moment we can all rally round, one which can accommodate millions for free. Compare all the enforced jollity surrounding the London Games with the quiet, unobtrusive build-up to the Diamond Jubilee. There will be no opening ceremony or frightful mascot. It is not, in any sense, competing with anything else. The royal household has not even formed a committee yet. At this stage, there have simply been a series of private conversations inside Buckingham Palace. ‘The only firm decision is that it won’t be a replica of the Golden Jubilee,’ says one of those involved.
The Queen will be 86 in the summer of 2012. Her staff will not prepare an itinerary to match the Golden Jubilee tour of 2002 which included 70 towns and cities in Britain alone and a 40,000-mile Commonwealth tour. But that will have no effect on the outpouring of public affection for a monarch who has been a much-loved global figure for longer than most people have been alive. Neither hype nor spin will be required.
‘You don’t tell people in this country to celebrate. You just help them to enjoy themselves,’ says Lord Sterling, the former chairman of P&O and a principal architect of both the Golden and Silver Jubilees. He recalls how the media had warned that a jaded 21st-century Britain would have no interest in the Golden Jubilee. They were soon tearing up that script on day one of the Jubilee tour when it kicked off in Cornwall and, within hours, Truro was at a standstill. The national mood was clear long before millions poured into London over that June weekend in 2002 to watch the fireworks, to witness those epic concerts on the Palace lawns and, above all, to catch a glimpse of the sovereign.
‘I never had any doubts about the strength of public feeling for a single moment,’ says Lord Sterling. ‘It will be just the same in 2012.’ An assiduous fundraiser for many causes, his recipe for a successful jubilee is to have a clear, tight line of command and to let the people, not the politicians, steer the celebrations. With nearly all the £3 million costs of the Golden Jubilee (that’s 0.03 per cent of the current Olympic budget) met by sponsorship, the celebrations cost the taxpayer virtually nothing. ‘You don’t want to rely on government funds. You just need the government to be supportive. They certainly were in 2002 and 1977 and I am sure they will be again,’ adds Lord Sterling.
Despite the Queen’s advancing years, it is safe to say that the Diamond Jubilee will feature some lively trips to the regions, a service of thanksgiving and a Commonwealth event. The high point — as in 2002 and 1977 — will be a weekend of spectacular pageantry, fireworks, parades and millions of people coming unbidden out of nowhere to show their appreciation of an epochal reign.
Then, a couple of months later, the Queen will be there to open the Olympics. The Games will leave us with many great memories — and billions of pounds worth of excellent facilities for hockey and handball enthusiasts in Newham. But I have no doubt that history’s abiding images of 2012 will not be sporting ones. If you doubt me, ask the ration-book generation what they remember most from the austerity era — the 1948 London Olympics or the Coronation?
The London organisers have now had a chance to ‘showcase’ their event to the world. In Beijing, they produced a red double decker. In London, they threw a party — outside Buckingham Palace. No matter that the iconic Routemaster has been scrapped in favour of the lethal ‘bendy’ bus. No matter that London’s Olympic Park is nearer Essex than the Palace. Those organisers know what the world likes and admires about Britain. They know what people really think of when they think of London. And it’s not the regeneration of Stratford or the medal tally of ‘Team GB’.
So amid all the compulsory applause for the London Olympics, do not despair if you can’t get a ticket. For 2012 will see an event of rather greater historical significance which everyone can enjoy for free. And, no, Her Majesty does not need to be rebranded as ‘Queen GB’.Robert Hardman is the author of Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work (Ebury Press) and writes for the Daily Mail.