LONDON: Britons prepared Wednesday to mark a record-breaking 70 years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth II, with four days of festivities offering temporary respite from an inflationary crisis and doubts over the monarchy’s future.
The Platinum Jubilee takes place as Britons contend with a surge in prices not seen since the 1970s, with many households struggling to put food on the table and pay rocketing bills.
But with two public holidays from Thursday and then the weekend, pubs, restaurants and retailers are hoping for a timely sales boost, after a difficult period including the Covid pandemic.
Supermarket chain Co-op predicted “a bigger sales period than Christmas.”
On The Mall, a red-paved avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, royal enthusiasts from far and wide have been camping out, despite heavy downpours.
“The last 24 hours have been horrendous. We had rain, hail, thunder, lightning,” Mary-Jane Willows, 68, from Cornwall, southwest England, told AFP.
“It’s the only way to make sure that you are at the front of the barrier when that royal coronation coach goes past, that golden coach…. It will be the most magical moment,” she said.
Angie Hart, 51, traveled from Canada to stake out a camping spot on The Mall with her husband and two daughters.
“It has always been something that I wanted to do,” she said. “I just have a real respect for the queen.”
But in Britain and the wider Commonwealth, support for the monarchy overall is an open question once the increasingly frail, 96-year-old monarch departs the scene.
With Prince Charles taking over more of his mother’s duties for occasions of state, there is a sense that the first — and possibly the last — Platinum Jubilee in British history marks a turning of the page.
A poll for The Sun newspaper this week gave the queen a 91.7-percent approval rating. Charles commanded only 67.5 percent, behind his son Prince William on 87.4 percent.
In Australia, where the queen is also head of state, new center-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed an “assistant minister for the republic” in a move welcomed by the republicans.
Albanese has previously described Australia becoming a republic as “inevitable.”
Historian Anthony Seldon, of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said “how traumatic it’s going to be when it unravels, as well as it might in the next two, three, four years when the change comes.”
Unlike the vocal Charles, the queen has rarely expressed an opinion in public, and her sheer longevity means that she has been a fixture of the life of nearly every Briton alive.
She has overcome numerous family traumas, including Charles’ very public split from Princess Diana and personal heartache when her consort Prince Philip died aged 99 last year.
The jubilee is being seen as a chance for the nation to give thanks to the queen publicly, after social distancing last year prevented funeral crowds at Philip’s.
The celebrations kick off Thursday with Trooping the Colour, a military parade that has officially marked the British monarch’s birthday for centuries.
A fly-past will include Spitfires, the iconic fighter plane that helped win the Battle of Britain and fend off Nazi Germany in 1940.
The aerial display is expected to be watched by the queen and senior royals from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Balcony numbers have been limited to “working royals” only, leaving no place for self-exiled grandson Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan — returning on a rare visit to Britain — nor Elizabeth’s disgraced second son Prince Andrew.
Patriotic nostalgia runs red, white and blue throughout the festivities, culminating in Ed Sheeran singing “God Save the Queen” in front of Buckingham Palace on Sunday.
Participants in a giant public parade through central London earlier Sunday will be familiar to anyone acquired with British popular culture since 1952.
But Bollywood dancers and a Caribbean carnival will also reflect the changes in British society since then, from one that was predominantly white and Christian, to one that is multicultural and multi-faith.
Britain’s Empire has given way to a Commonwealth of nations — 14 of which still count the queen as their head of state, including Australia and Canada.
But recent royal tours of the Caribbean have laid bare growing tensions about the British monarchy’s status further afield.
“This queen has been a significant glue within that Commonwealth,” said Michael Cox, emeritus professor of international relations at LSE.
“Whether, how successfully, Charles is going to play the same role, I don’t know,” he said.