Thankfully the tube strike earlier this week did not last until the weekend, so we hopped onto a tube train to take us to Westminster. It is a great tube station to exit from, because as you do so immediately in front of you is the Houses of Parliament – it is a magnificent scene. Turning right as we came out of Westminster Underground Station, we headed towards St James’s Park. The site of the parade ground is at one end of the park, alongside Horse Guards Road. We timed our arrival perfectly as we had to wait in line for only a few minutes before the barriers were pushed aside and we all went through the security checks and then headed towards the stands.
Our seat was right at the back of one of the stands that back onto the garden of 10 Downing Street. In fact, we were right beneath the TV cameras and just along from the BBC commentary box for the event. Here’s a pic of the cameras as seen from our seats.
We were in place by about 9:20, and the parade was not due to start until 10:30, with the Queen not due on Horse Guards Parade until 11 o’clock. So, we had some time to waste, but we didn’t have the opportunity to get bored. One of the fun games I played was watching the “upper classes” struggling like you wouldn’t believe to find their correct seats!! There were a good dozen or more people who had to move because they had incorrectly identified their seats – I mean, how hard can it be? ;-) They have clearly not been to many football (soccer) matches!
We watched the parade ground being watered, and various guards taking their place at points around the parade ground. Before we knew it we could hear the first musical notes from the Massed Bands of the Guards Division as they marched onto the parade ground. And the ground very quickly filled up with the seven Foot Guards companies that were taking part, as well as the King’s Troop, the Household Cavalry and the Mounted Bands who all lined up in front of the Guards Memorial.
We heard screams coming from the route between Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards Parade, and guessed it was either Princes William and Harry or the Jonas Brothers! The two princes arrived on the ground in a horse-drawn carriage, together with their step-mother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. After they had taken their positions within the Horse Guards building to watch the ceremony, it was time for the arrival of The Queen and Prince Philip in another carriage, followed by Prince Charles, Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent who were all on horseback in fairly spectacular uniforms.
As we neared the Palace, we expected the crowds to be too dense for us to progress but somehow they magically parted and we were able to make our way almost right up to the Palace gates. Just as we got there so the Royal Family emerged onto the balcony to watch the flypast by the Royal Air Force. Several aircraft flew directly down The Mall and over the Palace in salute to the Queen, including a Lancaster Bomber, a Spitfire and a Hurricane as well as more modern fighter jets such as Tornado GR4s and Eurofighter Typhoons. The flypast of 29 aircraft reached its crescendo with the Red Arrows, who trailed red, white and blue smoke as they roared over the crowds below. It was a superb finale to a wonderful day. We waved as the Royal Family moved back inside the Palace and then headed away to get something to eat before we returned home.
I mentioned to Dori while we were watching the ceremony that it all felt a little surreal – seeing something that I had grown up watching on TV and never once thought I’d ever get to see in the flesh. That surrealism was then surpassed by seeing the Royal Family waving from the Palace balcony, a scene that we have all seen many, many times before. I may have lived in England for over 40 years, but this was the first time that I have seen my monarch or many of the other members of the Royal Family (we had seen William and Harry before, at the Concert for Diana in 2007).
We got home in the evening, tired and weary from our day in London, but very happy that we had been witness to a centuries-old ceremony full of pomp and pageantry. It was a great day.
For even more pics, check out Dori's blog!