The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant - in detail
By Sue Elliott, Pagefield
The Thames Barrier will be closed for annual maintenance on the day, which means the river will be ‘locked’ at just below high water, so everyone should have a good view from its banks and the boats will not have to cope with the extra momentum of an ebb tide.
At Battersea, the banks will be filled with thousands of spectators, and the forward sections of the Pageant will muster in their respective ‘squadrons’, ready for the start. These are the smaller man-powered craft – rowed or paddled – the pace-setters for the flotilla.
By early afternoon at Chelsea Harbour Pier a sleek launch bearing the Royal crest will stand waiting. This is the barge for HM Yacht Britannia, used to take The Queen from ship to shore - a reminder that the Royal Yacht , launched in Coronation Year, served The Royal Family for 44 years on nearly 700 foreign trips.
When The Queen arrives, the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir David Brewer, will lead her through a Guard of Honour formed of Chelsea Pensioners, to where the Prince of Wales – Patron of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant – welcomes her. Trumpet Heralds will sound her arrival as The Queen’s Bargemaster sees her safely aboard, followed by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Close by on Battersea Rail Bridge, a restored relic of the steam age, LMS Princess Elizabeth, will sound her shrill salute as the barge for HM Yacht Britannia slips away from Chelsea Harbour.
Downstream, just below Albert Bridge at Cadogan Pier, the vessel specially prepared for service as the Royal Barge will wait ready to receive the Royal Party. Even without her striking royal livery, Spirit of Chartwell is a quite exceptional Thames cruise vessel: her opulence, capacity, safety and manoeuverability make her the perfect choice for this very special role.
Her owner, Philip Morrell, loaned her for a six-month transformation overseen by production designer Joseph Bennett, working with horticulturalist Rachel de Thame. The result will be a magnificent blend of historical reference and contemporary design flair, using rich drapery and striking floral decorations on a theme of regal reds, purples and gold. The overall effect is stunning; the exquisite detail designed to stand the scrutiny of an HD TV close-up.
Crimson velvet swags, fragrant flower garlands and the coats of arms of The Queen’s Commonwealth Realms will adorn the sides of the Barge, with miniature gardens and a display incorporating Commonwealth plants on the cabin roof.
Alan Lamb, the head of historic carving at City and Guilds, created the frieze and the magnificent gilded prow figures that transform Spirit of Chartwell into a Royal Barge worthy of the most spectacular 17th century water triumph. Roman dolphins, bearded Old Father Thames, Britannia riding sea-horses, cornucopia of sea fruits and the Fair Wind all form around the front centrepiece, the Royal Cypher. This work of art, cast from a clay mould in acrylic resin, is decorated with a great deal of English gold leaf.
As a finale, on the bow hangs a beautiful banner made by Margate-based artist Ann Carrington. Using thousands of buttons on red velvet, she has created the Lion and Unicorn crest surrounded by imagery from past Coronations, royal rivers and London’s history. Below Battersea Bridge the lead section of the Pageant will get ready. Here are the traditional rowed barges, Venetian gondolas, shallops and cutters, including replicas of the ceremonial cutters that graced so many Lord Mayors’ processions in the past. Skiffs and gigs represent more familiar 20th century Thames traffic.
At its head is The Queen’s Rowbarge Gloriana, a magnificent gilded barge presented as a Diamond Jubilee gift to The Queen, and similar to the barge used in Lord Mayors’ processions in the early 19th century. Following her is Royal Shallop Jubilant, a replica of an 18th century royal barge used by The Queen for her Golden Jubilee.
Lining up behind them are 260 or so current-day man-powered boats: sea kayaks and rowing boats from clubs along the Thames and further afield. As pace-setters for the flotilla, they must keep up a steady four knots for the duration of the Pageant – 7.5 miles, taking just over an hour to complete.
As this forward section approaches the formal start of the Pageant by Battersea Park, Albert Bridge is ahead of them. All the bridges on the route will be packed with guests nominated by the London Boroughs that border the river, and the Pageant’s supporters and charity partners including the Royal British Legion, Fields in Trust, development charity Plan UK, and the Campaign for Wool, an initiative started by the Prince of Wales in 2010.
In Battersea Park large crowds of some 90,000 will be enjoying the Diamond Jubilee Festival – the Pageant’s land-based companion to the flotilla. Curated by designer Wayne Hemingway and artist Clare Patey, the Festival celebrates six decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign through music, fashion, food and fun with some very quirky and quintessentially British attractions.
There is a competition for the world’s tallest cake, a pop-up pub, The Diamond Geezer, a giant portrait of The Queen made out of 3,120 small cakes (one for each week of her reign), not to mention a Coronation Year tea dance and live music from the last six decades.
As well as being fun, the Festival is a wonderful showcase for some of Britain’s most creative craft, design and performance talents, all of whom will be encouraging active participation in their respective enthusiasms.
Almost 50 large screens strategically placed in the Park and along the route will broadcast this extraordinary scene to even more spectators in central London. In towns and cities up and down the UK too, BBC large screens will show the footage of this magnificent Pageant.
On the Royal Barge, the Royal Watermen prepare for their ceremonial role and waiting guests will gather on the top deck to greet The Queen as Britannia’s launch draws alongside. There are 24 Royal Watermen, one of the most ancient appointments to the Royal Household, drawn from the Company of Thames Watermen and Lightermen who work on the river today as masters of passenger boats and cargo vessels. Their scarlet-skirted costumes are a variation of Tudor waterman’s dress.
They will be led by The Queen’s Bargemaster, Paul Ludwig, who will escort her from the launch to the Royal Barge, where she will be welcomed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. They will be accompanied by Michael Lockett, Chief Executive of the Thames Jubilee Foundation.
At the front, as the flotilla approaches Albert Bridge, is the first of ten music herald barges that will punctuate the Pageant with very different kinds of music and announce each of its different boat sections.
This is a floating belfry containing a quarter peal of eight church bells, each named after a senior member of the Royal Family. The largest at half a ton is named Elizabeth. In recognition of their role today, they are to be known as the Royal Jubilee Bells.
After ringing in the Pageant, they will be installed in the tower of St James Garlickhythe, a beautiful Wren church in the City, for which they were commissioned. They will be rung by the Ancient Society of College Youths, a City of London bell-ringing society established in 1637 and led by chief bellringer, Dickon Love. Church bells along the route will ring in reply and others throughout the UK and in Commonwealth cities as far away as Western Australia will join in at the appointed hour.
When the floating belfry, followed by the rowed flotilla, draws level with Cadogan Pier,the Pageant will begin. At 2.45pm, the belfry barge will move towards Chelsea Bridge, pathfinder for this extraordinary flotilla. The entire stretch between Albert and Chelsea Bridge will be full of rowed craft and, at a shouted signal they will all raise their oars in salute – blades facing towards The Queen - and give three cheers for Her Majesty, before resuming positions and moving off downriver.
Meanwhile, the second music herald barge and more small craft line up to join the back of the procession. This is the Commonwealth squadron, led by an orchestra of 24 musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music who will be performing the two best-known pieces of 18th century ‘royal’ music: Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Behind it, 55 small outboard-powered training craft crewed by Sea Cadets, bear the flags of the 54 Commonwealth nations and the Commonwealth flag itself - a stirring reminder that the Commonwealth, with a total population of over two billion people and member nations on every continent, is an integral part of these Jubilee celebrations.
No royal ceremonial is complete without the traditional form of announcement of the imminent presence of the Monarch, so here is the third of the music herald barges. Seven Trumpet Heralds of the Royal Marines, accompanied by the most senior figures in heraldry wearing their distinctive red and gold tabards emblazoned with the Royal Arms, led by Thomas Woodcock , Garter King of Arms.
Shortly before 3pm the Spirit of Chartwell will slip her moorings at Cadogan Pier to join the flotilla behind the Commonwealth section. The Trumpet Heralds will announce The Queen’s arrival as the Royal Barge takes centre stage in the procession. They will perform a similar fanfare before every bridge and on the approach to each river reach. A Royal Navy and Royal Marine Guard of Honour accompanies the Barge.
Behind them is a small armada of vessels making up the Royal Squadron led by the launch Havengore, used to bear the coffin of Sir Winston Churchill in January 1965 from Tower Pier after his State Funeral on its final journey to burial in Oxfordshire. Incorporated into the decorations of these vessels are the flags of the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.
Back upriver towards the mustering area beyond Battersea Bridge, the ten distinct boat squadrons will be forming up, with the 260-odd manpowered craft in front and the 450 motor-powered vessels behind. In amongst them are some 160 marshalling, safety and security vessels. At the back are about 90 Thames passenger cruisers.
This procession will take up much of the river’s width and seven miles of its length. It will take up to 75 minutes to pass any given point and more than two hours for the last boat to reach the end of the royal route just below Tower Bridge.
On the fourth music herald barge The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines will be playing stirring nautical marches and familiar melodies including Hearts of Oak, A Life on the Ocean Wave and the popular classic Sailing.
Immediately behind comes the Historic Section and the Dunkirk Little Ships, last survivors of Operation Dynamo, Churchill’s heroic scheme to evacuate nearly 400,000 Allied troops from the coast of France in May 1940.
The fifth music herald barge is a pipe and drum band, but not as we usually know it. This is the Shree Muktajeevan Pipe Band playing the Scottish pipes and drums with the Shree Muktajeevan Dhol Ensemble on traditional double-headed drums.
Dressed in Royal Stewart tartan, this London-based Asian pipe and drum band supported by dhol players, will play an intriguing repertoire of traditional Scottish pipe airs, Indian melodies, devotional songs and Bollywood film music.
Following are over one hundred other historic craft: sleek Thames slipper launches, vintage speedboats, classic cruisers, retired Police launches, historic lifeboats and venerable Forces vessels, each with a story to tell.
The sixth music herald barge carries the Jubilant Commonwealth Choir: 120 amateur voices, with four professional soloists, drawn from London’s Canadian, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Australian and Oceanian communities. Their repertoire, including a special composition with lyrics by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, melds musical and cultural traditions in a gorgeous symphony of Commonwealth song-making.
The capella performance heralds the section of vital service and working vessels. Here are the steamers, tugs and barges that have hauled Britain’s raw materials, goods – and waste – along its rivers and canal systems for more than three centuries.
Following them, five fire boats shoot jets 50 feet into the air, leading the Leisure Section - 60 recreational motor boats from every nation, region and area of the UK, representing the private leisure craft that cruise Britain’s inland, tidal and coastal waters. This section was three times oversubscribed, but every region and area of the UK will be represented in some form. For the many disappointed owners who didn’t make the selection, they will have the consolation of their own special viewing enclosure on Chelsea Bridge.
The passenger vessel Georgian will be the seventh music herald barge. Eleven of the UK’s foremost composers were specially commissioned to write short pieces of inspirational music for the Pageant and this new suite, The New Water Music, will be given its world premiere on the day by an ensemble of 18 musicians.
Behind them come 40 narrow boats in traditional livery, with 20 Dutch barges. The narrow boats hail from many different parts of the UK and carry an impressive contingent of Lord Lieutenants representing English counties.
The eighth music herald barge will play host to The Mayor’s Jubilee Band, a 54-piece youth brass band formed of students from London music colleges and talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds helped by the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians. They will be performing a varied repertoire which will include a specially commissioned piece by British film composer Rachel Portman (One Day, The Duchess)
Behind them is a large contingent of Thames passenger boats including the familiar Thames Clippers, Duck Tours’ amphibious yellow vessels and RIBs, cruising at an uncharacteristically sedate four knots.
Under Blackfriars Rail Bridge the Pageant is now in the heart of the historic City. The final straight will be in view, where just below Tower Bridge at naval shore establishment HMS President, The Queen will review the Pageant as it passes downriver.
The bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral will ring out in reply as the floating belfry passes under the London Millennium Footbridge, which will be thronged with people.
Meanwhile, back upriver, the ninth and penultimate music herald barge,the Wyndham Grand, will join the flotilla, taking the public on a Diamond Jubilee journey through six decades of popular music. A 16-piece band, Rhythm on the River, offers instrumental and vocal pieces in a range of styles from big band to pop. There’s something for every generation of The Queen’s reign here.
From London Bridge in the straight stretch down to Wapping, the beautiful boats in the Avenue Of Sail are moored on both banks: warships, tall ships, Thames sailing barges, sleek sailing yachts, square riggers and steam tugs, cocklers, herring drifters, oyster smacks and more - a thrilling armada of British maritime pride and history.
By now the belfry barge – still ringing out - will be leading the rowed squadron through Tower Bridge. Dwarfed by the bridge, the ancient Tower of London with its festive decorations will look more like a palace and less like a fortress on the day. As soon as the rowed section is safely through, a 41-gun salute will sound from the Tower of London.
Trumpet Heralds announce The Queen’s approach to Tower Bridge. Naval veterans and Sea Cadets on HMS Belfast will raise a huge orchestrated ‘three cheers’ to Her Majesty as the Royal Barge passes by and the mighty bascules of Tower Bridge open in salute.
By now, the lead vessels will have passed the end of their royal route and are continuing downriver to their designated retrieval places and overnight berths in West India Dock. But this isn’t the end of the Pageant...
Shortly after 4pm the Royal Barge will moor at the jetty of HMS President. Upriver the final squadron will be just passing Battersea Power Station. At this moment the whole of the river from Battersea down to Tower Bridge and beyond, will be packed with pageantry, a sight unique in London’s two millennia lifetime.
The final craft in the flotilla is the tenth and final music herald barge, the Symphony. On board, will be musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra who will begin a repertoire crafted to link pieces of music to the route’s Thames-side locations: for example Country Gardens for Battersea Park and Chelsea Physic Garden; the James Bond theme for the MI6 building at Vauxhall; The Dambusters at the Royal Air Force Memorial. The Orchestra will be accompanied by the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir, who will sing anthems closely associated with British pride such as Jerusalem, and Rule Britannia .
The crowds are expected to join in with the orchestra and singers for the National Anthem, and applause, ships’ bells and horns from the Avenue of Sail will create a cacophony of noise, with HMS Belfast joining in. Tower Bridge will lower its bascules, to mark the end of the pageant.
Downriver, the rowed boats will travel to Wapping and Cherry Garden Pier, where they will be retrieved from the tidal waters to safe ground. The belfry barge will continue its passage down the Thames, ringing out to the widening river.
The music barges will play on, as the flotilla, still in formation, sails through East London to West India Docks. Here hundreds of vessels large and small will moor up for the night.
Copyright Sue Elliott /Pagefield