UK News

Queen’s birthday celebrations carry on with pandemic-era adjustments

Fresh from charming leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Queen Elizabeth was back at her residence at Windsor Castle on Saturday for military parade officially marking her birthday.

The 95-year-old monarch sat on a dais to watch the ceremony that despite ongoing physical distancing restrictions did not disappoint on the pomp and pageantry front.

If she was tired after meeting G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, on Friday evening, it didn’t show.

The ceremony is a gift from the Household Division of army regiments, which has a close affinity with the monarch.

It featured soldiers who have played an integral role in the COVID-19 response, as well as those who have been serving on military operations.

The Queen beamed as the nine planes of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows flew past in formation and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.

The traditional Trooping the Colour ceremony is normally staged in London and features hundreds of servicemen and women and thousands of spectators.

However, for the second year running, that was not possible and it was a slimmed-down affair in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is around 44 kilometres west of the capital.

Dubbed a mini Trooping the Colour, it featured soldiers in ceremonial scarlet coats and bearskin hats.

The servicemen and women on parade numbered almost 275, with 70 horses, compared with the 85 soldiers who took part in the ceremony last summer.

A small handful of seated guests lined part of the quadrangle — a change from last year when only the military were present.

The ceremony originated from traditional preparations for battle. The colours — or flags — were “trooped,” or carried down the lines of soldiers, so they could be seen and recognized in battle.

Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone, who planned the queen’s official birthday celebrations in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle, said he wanted to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the monarch.

Though she has been mourning the loss of her husband of 73 years, the queen has carried on performing her duties, including delivering a government-scripted speech to mark the new session of parliament.

On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world’s largest indoor rainforest.

She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

Though the queen’s actual birthday is on April 21, she celebrates another one in June when the British weather — it is hoped — is more conducive to outdoor celebrations.

It’s a royal tradition that goes back to 1748 and the reign of King George II, whose actual birthday was in November.

Honours for service during the pandemic

One of the major parts of the queen’s official birthday is her award of honours to those deemed to have made a positive contribution to society.

This year’s honours list has celebrated those at the forefront of the U.K.’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines over the past few months, which has been credited with turning around the country’s pandemic response.

Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine being manufactured by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and Kate Bingham, the former head of the U.K. Vaccines Taskforce credited for the country’s successful procurement program, have both been recognized with damehoods.

Though the U.K. has seen Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, with nearly 128,000 people having lost their lives, its vaccination program has been deemed one of the world’s speediest and most coherent rollouts.