The queen’s “diamond jubilee,” commemorating her 60th year on the throne, will draw an estimated 1 million people to London for a four-day fete starting Saturday that, in terms of sheer pageantry, will dwarf last year’s nuptials of her grandson Prince William and his now-famous bride, Catherine. Aboard a royal barge, the monarch will lead a 1,000-vessel flotilla down the Thames in a majestic scene inspired by a Canaletto painting. A network of 2,012 beacons will be lighted in her honor from the Scottish Highlands to the Channel Islands. Paul McCartney and Elton John will serenade her at a glittering concert outside Buckingham Palace.
Yet the queen is observing more than a milestone that puts her just three years shy of becoming Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. At a time when the missteps of King Juan Carlos have Spain seriously rethinking the wisdom of monarchy, she is also symbolically marking the revival of a British royal house that has defied the odds by bringing a nation — and the world — back under its spell.
For a family once described as Britain’s most dysfunctional, and in a country where whispers of republicanism seemed to swirl with every new tabloid headline, the rising fortunes of the British royals amount to what observers call a public relations coup. Although support for the monarchy has always been strong, a new opinion poll by Ipsos Mori shows that eight out of every 10 Britons want to keep the monarchy — the highest level of support since the surveys began in the 1980s.
Many credit the supernova wedding that produced the global stars now known simply as “Will and Kate” with providing the House of Windsor its undeniable boost. But in the year since the bunting came down from Westminster Abbey, the royals appear to have solidified those gains, with even the gangling Prince Charles and his second wife, Camilla, scoring fresh points with the public.
Most important, the younger generation of Windsors — including those now associated by marriage, such as Pippa Middleton, the sister of Catherine — have emerged as de facto pop culture icons rivaling the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Their fame, royal watchers say, has given the British monarchy’s international image a lift not seen since the early years of another royal couple — Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Yet as Britain prepares for the queen’s diamond jubilee, the monarchy more than ever is all about Her.
“At 86, the queen is having her star turn,” said Dickie Arbiter, her former spokesman.
Although publicly criticized for her initial inaction after Diana’s death in 1997, the queen has almost always been seen as the glue of the nation and its living link to a commonwealth of which she remains head of state and through which Britain enjoys outsize influence. The rare occasion of a 60th year on the throne — only Queen Victoria had made it this far until now — appears to have refocused Britain’s attention on a woman who has defined an era here.