Viewing the royal jamboree from Scotland is like tuning in from a far-off planet - Dani Garavelli

Hundreds of thousands died while the Prime Minister partied; no-one took to the streets. Energy bills soared while the Chancellor built a pool and tennis courts at his country manor; no-one took to the streets. Soon, the Home Secretary will put Syrian refugees on a flight to Rwanda; and no-one will take to the streets.

Yet hold a four-day festival to mark 70 years of unelected privilege and you are guaranteed flag-waving crowds on the Mall. Throw in a bank holiday or two, and there will be beer, bunting and bellicism a go-go. The UK may be crisis-hopping like a disaster tourist trying to bag them all, but people couldn’t get enough of their bread and circuses in Tatsville-on-Thames where the closest anyone came to revolution was a spin on the London Eye.

Anthropologically speaking, the pomp, ritual and bizarre expressions of public homage were worthy of study. What will future generations make of the images of Her Majesty projected onto Stonehenge? The family dynamics, too, were fascinating for all those interested in rivalry, infidelity and hubris: Charles and Camilla; Kate and Meghan; the absence of Andrew and Harry from the palace balcony. I hope Hilary Mantel was scribbling furiously as it unfolded in all its weirdness. The greatest legacy of the Jubilee would be her take on the Windsor Court.

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But it was galling, too. Galling to witness such sycophancy towards an institution that embodies the elitism at the heart of our broken society. Galling that there should be parades and beacon-lighting to honour one recipient of state benefits, while others struggle to make it to the end of the week. The wealth on display was a slap in the face for those scrabbling around in coat pockets for spare coins to feed their meters. It’s legitimate to believe the Queen was an effective head of state during a time of national emergency. But where were the fly-pasts for the ordinary workers who held this country together?

Members of the public fill The Mall before a flypast during the Queen's Birthday Parade, the Trooping the Colour, as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty
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It was particularly discombobulating to view the royal jamboree from Scotland, where the streets have been largely bereft of banners, and the jubilee greeted with apathy or anger. Living here, you become used to feeling culturally estranged; to watching voters you cannot fathom endorse policies you cannot bear. Even so, the breathless commentary had an alienating effect; as if we were tuning in from 1953 as opposed to 2022, or from a far-off planet as opposed to a few hundred miles up the road.

All those hats. All those garden parties. Though, talking of hats and parties, there was one glorious moment of schadenfreude: The Booing of Boris Johnson. That the jeers came from the very demographic who might have been expected to buy into his brand of jingoism and lust for Empire gave it added piquancy. The Service of Thanksgiving was the kind of era-defining moment he must have dreamed of: a Rule Britannia extravaganza, and himself close to the centre. I bet he had rehearsed the scene in his mind; him and Carrie, climbing the steps of St Paul's, cheered on by adoring fans. The man who delivered Brexit. The man who allowed the country to Take Back Control.

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And yet, on Friday, what rewards did he reap? A wife who used her oversized brim as a shield, and reception so hostile he could no longer delude himself the public was behind him. If those who will queue for hours to see the Queen are not ready to “move on”, then no-one is.

Perhaps those royalists cleave to a different - though still spurious - version of “Britishness”: one defined by integrity and sacrifice, not solipsism and self-aggrandisement. The Queen may be a walking anachronism, but she mourned her husband’s death alone, just like her “subjects”. With his boorish behaviour and disregard for his own laws, Johnson did the seemingly impossible. He made a woman who has spent her life protected from hardship seem closer to "the people" than the politician elected to lead them.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Symonds arrive for the National Service of Thanksgiving to Celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen at St Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Henry Nicholls - WPA Pool/Getty

One can only hope this presages his downfall. Surely now those Tory backbenchers who have been holding back from submitting letters of no confidence will see which way the wind is blowing. There is a beautiful symmetry to the notion that a festival to mark the longevity of Elizabeth II’s reign might mark the end of Johnson’s.

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As for the monarchy, it would be easy to read into the gathered crowds a hereditary support for the institution. But it could just as easily be a last hurrah; a celebration more overblown for the knowledge it will never be repeated.

Looking round St Paul’s, it was impossible to imagine other Royals commanding the respect the Queen has garnered. Charles and Camilla looked old and dissolute; William and Kate, airbrushed and priggish. Harry and Meghan, ahead of the curve, have abandoned the “Firm” in advance of its extinction. And a convenient dose of Covid cannot wipe the shame of Andrew’s transgressions from the public consciousness.

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The whole affair carried itself like a remembrance of things past, a sensation heightened by the fact the Queen was too frail to attend much of it. She is already fading into the distance. So, too, is the world she stood for. Young people from Commonwealth nations spoke at the thanksgiving service, but a truer insight into those countries’ attitudes could be gleaned from the protests William and Kate faced on their trip to Jamaica.

Tomorrow, the country will suffer a come-down. It will be forced to confront reality: that we are on the brink of the most severe economic crisis in most of our lifetimes. And this fetishisation of monarchy will feel like an obscene fever dream.



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