Rain never stopped play | Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant Flotilla
My experience of watching the Queen’s Flotilla on a wet day in June 2012.
Ahead of the Queen Elizabeth II‘s Jubilee Weekend, I wrote a last-minute blog with ideas of where to celebrate it. But when it came for me to make a decision, I was torn for choice. As I was flying out to Italy on the Bank Holiday Monday morning for a last-minute holiday, I decided to hit the Thames to watch the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant.
As a South Londoner and having spent a lot of my childhood playing on the South Bank, I was drawn to trying to find a spot to watch the flotilla from that side of the river. We arrived at London Bridge station armed with umbrellas, camera, Union Jacks and some cans of Pimm’s Cups. The forecast was dim, but, like all Londoners, we are used to rain and pressed ahead with our plans to watch it al fresco.
Rather ignorantly, we were hoping the rain may have put off some people and arrived about 90 minutes ahead of the flotilla starting. As we walked past viewpoint after viewpoint – which were closed off by police due to crowd control – it soon started to look hopeless that we were going to see the flotilla at all. We got as far as Southwark Bridge (not very far at all, but took ages due to the sheer volume of people) and after being told that most bridges were being closed off (although my official flotilla map said otherwise…), I had the brainwave to walk to Borough tube and get the Underground ‘over’ the river since going by foot looked increasingly difficult.
After riding to Bank, we then headed down to Mansion House and kept looking for viewing areas along Lower Thames Street Embankment – still to no avail. Some people had stood on flights of stairs to get literally a 10ft by 10ft view through a small gap in the buildings. I was determined I wouldn’t be that desperate to put up with a view that poor.
Finally we reached Blackfriars Bridge about 90 minutes after setting off from London Bridge. Our timing was perfect because there just happened to be a few ‘viewing spots’ left on one of the flower beds on a traffic island in front of Unilever House. Now I’m not a vandle and like to respect my city, but needs must, so myself and my group climbed onto the bed – making sure we didn’t crush the plants in the process before anyone accuses me of vandalising them! Finally we could see the Thames – albeit over a sea of heads and flags – but we had a decent wide view on the river bend and Waterloo Bridge. There was also a large TV screen erected on the actual bridge so we could see the action on the Queen’s Barge too.
It might have been raining and it was a lot of standing around waiting, but the atmosphere was amazing. It was London in all its glory – looking around I could see a true representation of London (and the other Brits visiting from out of town). There were people from different classes, races and religion all coming together to celebrate the country and our Queen. I was feeling very patriotic and wore my Union Jack flag as a cape, a style choice many had made that day. One man had gone to extra patriotic lengths and painted the Union Jack on his face – a true ‘Diamond (Jubilee) Geezer’.
Finally when the Spirit Of Chartwell reached the bridge, there was a massive audio Mexican wave of cheers and whoops. The Queen’s barge was sailing particularly close to the north bank of the river, so I ended up climbing onto a pedestrian crossing light and balancing on the button box to get a better view! The barge’s passing under Blackfriars happened to coincide with the heaviest rain since we’d been outside, but the atmosphere was so jubilant, I was past caring.
After finally seeing the Queen – albeit from a distance – and experiencing the Jubilee atmosphere, we were ready to hit home to watch the highlights from the comfort of the sofa – with a detour to a hot drinks establishment first.
Later reports estimated 1.2million had been by the river to watch the flotilla, which I could easily believe. Walking on some of the City Of London’s busiest roads, where there is usually vehicles, was a surreal experience. As dismal as the weather was, the sea of people wearing red, white and blue raised your spirits.
With the Queen being 86, its unlikely we will see her Platinum (70th) Jubilee, so I felt it was important to be a part of it and was proud to see London on the world stage – for the first of two times this year with the Olympics coming up. I was at the Thames for her Golden Jubilee, but don’t remember it being as big a spectacle as the Diamond. I’ve always associated myself more as a Londoner than a Brit or Englishwoman, but felt very proud to be British on that day.