You don’t buy too many balloons when you’re organizing an anniversary bash for a nonagenarian — even if, at age 96, your celebrator is a chipper gal still in amazingly good health (despite a recent brush with COVID, mobility issues and major stress from familial bad behavior). You just never know. Tomorrow is not a given.
Which is why it rather feels as if everyone in Britain is holding their breath for the upcoming platinum jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II.
On June 2, her Maj will have been the reigning monarch for 70 years, beating out Queen Victoria by 12 years and moving her up into third place on the monarch longevity leader board of all time. (France’s Louis XIV heads the pack at 72 years, 110 days. Watch your back, Lou, Liz is coming in for the title.)
Everyone likes two extra days off work though, so with June 2 and 3 being added to the weekend for the main celebrations, big beanos are busting out all over, from pop up exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum to drag queen bingo, plus there will be picnics and beacon bonfire lighting all over the country. (For a full list, go here.)
So if you fancy a good shindig, dust off your Union Jack T-shirt, grab your oversized tea mug and head over the pond.
A good bet
Celebrations kick off on June 2 with the annual Trooping of the Colour horseback parade down the Mall to Horse Guards Parade, followed by RAF flyovers and Palace balcony appearances by the royal family.
That’s followed by a thanksgiving for the queen’s service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on June 3, but the celebrations get off to the races, literally, on June 4. Epsom Downs racecourse in Surrey, 13 miles from London, draws huge crowds every first Saturday in June for the annual Derby Day (you pronounce it “darby”). This 243rd running of the Derby, considered “the world’s greatest flat race” (take that, Kentucky!) is probably your best bet to see the queen IRL.
There’s been a lot of speculation about how much of the jubilee weekend the queen will attend in person because of, well, age — most notably those aforementioned mobility issues — but this is one event she is said to be determined to attend, and staff are allegedly “moving heaven and earth” to make it happen.
And for good reason: As a keen equestrian and racehorse owner with more than 1,800 winners to her credit, the Derby is the only one of the five classic English races that has so far eluded her. There’s a field of 91 contenders from which the top colts (from 12 to 20 horses) will qualify to race, and the queen’s got three hopefuls in the mix this year: The home-bred Reach For The Moon, Educator and General Idea. Could be worth an each-way bet.
Grandstand tickets start at $31; there’s also a family friendly jubilee enclosure outside the course with big screens showing the action for $25. Entrance to the Hill at the center of the racecourse, which features a fun fair, market and picnic sites, is free.
Throw me a parade
The seat of the monarchy, Buckingham Palace, which sits at the end of The Mall in Westminster, will be the focus for the main event on June 5, namely the Platinum Pageant.
This day-long “people’s pageant” is being billed as “carnival, May day, mela, fiesta and mardi gras all in one” — to which you could also add the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and any Olympic ceremony ever.
Action takes place along the mall and around Buckingham Palace, essentially following the route of the 1953 coronation, with 10,000 people involved in the parade from across the commonwealth, plus expected throngs of sightseers.
A collection of musical acts will perform in front of the queen at the Platinum Party. A global collection of names (currently still TBD) will be reflecting on this grand Elizabethan era.
The parade itself is divided into four acts.
Act one is “for queen and country,” and essentially a military parade. That’s followed by “the time of our lives” highlighting the seven decades of the queen’s reign. Iconic cars from James Bond movies will check off the mandatory 007 references, along with a roll-by by some Daleks. (That’s worth every cent of your transatlantic airfare, right there.)
There will also be an appearance by Sir Cliff Richard — we don’t think he’s missed a royal bash yet.
Act three is “let’s celebrate” and features the main parade performers. The crowning glory (ahem) will be an aerialist artist under a huge helium balloon bearing the queen’s image.
The finale, “happy and glorious” will basically be a big old singsong held around the Queen Victoria Memorial, including a rendition of God Save The Queen from the Royal Marines band, all led by, well, Ed Sheeran. Of course.
Elsewhere on June 5, the whole country is staging the Big Jubilee Lunch, in which everyone is encouraged to dust off the picnic tables, hang up the red, white and blue bunting, close the road to traffic and have exuberant street parties, complete with sausage rolls, cake, and lashings of ginger beer (not to mention plenty of actual beer and a fair bit of fizz). It will be impossible to avoid, so wherever you are in the UK on this day, plan on eating a lot of cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
Where to feel like a local
If you don’t fancy jostling into the crowds, your best bet will be to head to a good London pub, where you can elbow your way up to a bar instead. The capital’s watering holes have been granted extended hours to stay open until 1 a.m. for the duration, and you can bet there will be lively crowds.
There are gems all over the city, but a few favorite haunts include the London Apprentice on the Thames in Isleworth. There’s a royal connection, since the pub, which dates to the 15th century, has welcomed the likes of Henry VIII and both Charles I and II, plus ne’er-to do-wells like highwayman Dick Turpin. Today’s revelers can enjoy the same splendid river views they had from the patio (now heated, in case of a British summer chill) as well enjoy as a selection of real ales.
A short hop down the Thames, you’ll find the Barmy Arms, right by Twickenham rugby club and named for its rabid local fans, the Barmy Army. Another riverside pub, its pretty patio is a relaxing place for fish and chips, and makes a nice kicking off spot for a jaunt around Eel Pie Island just over the pedestrian bridge. In the 1960s, this tiny island in the Thames was a hub of jazz and blues, and later hosted fledgling acts like the Rolling Stones and the Who. All that’s gone now, but the island remains a bohemian artist enclave that makes for a fun wander.
Across the river in tony Richmond, the Prince’s Head has spent 300 years being a rustic neighborhood pub but is quietly enjoying its new found fame as fictional soccer coach Ted Lasso’s watering hole, renamed the Crown and Anchor in the Apple TV series. While interior scenes weren’t filmed there, the pub has a similar vibe inside and a big screen for sports (or jubilee) watching. Look out for the discreetly placed AFC Richmond shirt on the wall. Bonus: Expansive Richmond Green outside will be the perfect place for a neighborhood jubilee picnic, should the weather cooperate. (It’s the hope that kills you.)
If truly great grub is what you’re after, take a trip on the Metropolitan line to Harrow-on-the-Hill, and head to the Kingsfield Arms. This Indian gastropub is a hidden gem with authentic, home-cooked food that’s hard to beat, all for around $30 a head. Don’t miss the butter chicken, cooked in a tandoori oven before being tossed in butter masala. A small but cozy outside patio is the place for after dinner snifters.
Where to be posh
We can thank Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, for the heaven that is afternoon tea. She got too hungry for dinner at 8 p.m., and in 1840 came up with the idea of finger food, cakes and pots of tea to tide her over.
This year, afternoon teas have really come to the fore and are popping up all over. At upscale royal warrant store Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly, the Diamond Jubilee tea salon has a famous afternoon tea service with options for everyone, including savory, vegetarian and gluten free. Prices start at $88.
If you want to go all Regency and put a “Bridgerton” spin on it, the Lanesborough hotel in Knightsbridge has curated a selection of delicacies based on the Netflix series. Tuck into specialties like the Rake, a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse, passionfruit curd and a “whipped passionfruit cream Chantilly cravat.” Prices from $85.
Specially for the jubilee long weekend, on June 3, 4 and 5, you can enjoy afternoon tea while swanning down the river. River Thames Cruises have a midday two-and-a-half-hour cruise from Westminster Pier, and along with the traditional tea, you’ll get panoramic views of London and a royal themed commentary, all for $53.
Where to stay
You’ll feel like a local — albeit a very privileged one — at the Rosewood London, centrally located in High Holborn. The 1914 Edwardian Grade II listed Beaux Arts building once housed an insurance company, but there’s nothing staid about it. Instead, it gives the air of arriving at your own exclusive, grand pied-à-terre.
The soothing 263 guest rooms and 45 suites offer subtle yet rich Asian flair created by Tony Chi. Don’t miss their jubilee-themed afternoon tea where they are serving up exquisite work of art cakes inspired by the Tate Modern that look way too good to eat ($81).
Scarfe’s Bar, a cozy space with a nod to classic British satirist Gerald Scarfe whose illustrations adorn the walls, is the place to go for creative cocktails. Their jubilee special is one of the queen’s favorites, the Gan-Gan, a blend of Dubonnet and gin. Look out for Scarfe’s wickedly fun model of the queen there, too.
Unusually for London, the Rosewood features a large, private courtyard, and on June 5, the hotel will be busting out the bunting and hosting a jubilee courtyard party, where you can enjoy and afternoon tea, complete with specialties like blue lobster and Marie rose brioche, and classics like scones, Cornish clotted cream and, naturally, a glass of bubbly.
By reservation only, at $345 per person.
You can also combo the party with a Rosewood royalty room package for two, which gets you a night’s stay plus party tickets, full English breakfast and a jubilee-themed gift, all for $1,550.
Room rates start at $1,000, suites $1,708. If you want to push the boat out, book the Grand Manor House wing, a lush seven-bedroom suite so big that it has its own postcode. Bring friends and family — rates start at $25,050. A night.)
Castle in the sky
The queen recently decamped from the formal (and draughty) workplace “Buck House” and moved full time to her cozier apartments within the walls of Windsor Castle, 21 miles away in this posh suburban Berkshire town, which is serving as a second celebration hub.
Built in 1070 by William the Conqueror, it’s a classic motte-and-bailey design castle strategically overlooking the River Thames. It’s been expanded, fortified, improved, rebuilt (after a devastating fire in 1992) and generally lived in by the kings and queens of England ever since. You might get a bird’s-eye view of it as you come in to land in Heathrow, since it’s often on the wheels-down portion of the flight path — the queen gets a bit of noise pollution.
The Queens Guard (they of the immovable faces, red coats and bearskin busbys) parade the premises and preside over the roped off private quarters, but the rest of the art-laden rooms where dignitaries are received and honorees are knighted are open to the public.
You can also see St. George’s Chapel, where Harry and Meghan were married and where the queen famously sat alone at the funeral of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip. Grim note: He’s currently somewhere under the floor awaiting permanent internment in the royal vault, once his wife pops off to join him there.
From July 7 through Sept. 26, Windsor Castle will host a jubilee exhibition focused on the queen’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, featuring her grand ceremonial coronation dress, designed by Norman Hartnell. Normally kept in storage in preservation mode, it’s a rare chance to see the elaborate embroidery designs that include gold beads and pearls.
This is part of a trio of jubilee specials from the Royal Collection Trust that includes Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, where more coronation artifacts, outfits and images are on display.
Outside, bucolic Windsor Great Park, formerly royal hunting grounds, stretches for 13,000 acres, some of which is open to the public. This will be the center of the town festivities on June 5, when the locals hope to create the longest picnic table in the world, aiming for a 1,600-footer, beating out the record set in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2019. (Take that, colonies!) To keep the party going, there will also be a giant screen relaying all the London action.
Tickets for Windsor Castle start at $34. Entry to the Great Park is free.
Where to stay
To feel like one of the glitterati, head over to Cliveden House, 10 miles away along the river.
This Grade I Italianite villa set in 376 acres of manicured grounds was built in 1851 for the second Duke of Sutherland, and in its illustrious history it has grandly hosted dignitaries and royalty, from Queen Victoria to the Duchess of Sussex and Meghan Markle, who stayed here on her wedding night in 2018.
The house entered its most glamorous phase after American millionaire William Waldorf Astor bought it in 1893, for $1.2 million. In the 1920s and 30s, as the home of Viscountess Nancy Astor, Britain’s first woman member of parliament, it was the seat of the so-called “Cliveden set” of actors, politicians and intellectuals. Weekend party goers could mingle with the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Mahatma Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During a hot July weekend in swinging 1961, Secretary of State John Profumo encountered young model Christine Keeler here, at the pool, swimming in the buff. The resulting extramarital fling became known as the Profumo Affair and led to the downfall of the Conservative government.
That put a bit of a damper on things at Cliveden, since what happened there obviously didn’t stay there, so in 1966 the Asters packed up and left the house to the National Trust, who now operate the gardens, which are open to the public, along with certain parts of the house. Tickets start at $20.
In 1985 the house was leased out to become a hotel, and Iconic Luxury Hotels now operates the luxurious five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel and spa.
Dining includes a traditional stately home restaurant overlooking the terrace out to the grand gardens, as well as the charming Astor Grill in a converted stable block, which features saddles as bar stools.
Even if you don’t stay the night, stop by for afternoon tea. Executive Chef Christopher Hannon has curated a platinum jubilee special ($56), featuring Victoria sponge and the queen’s favorite, chocolate biscuit cake. (You can find the recipe for this delicious treat from her own chef here.) Vegans rejoice: There’s even a special afternoon tea menu for you.
The 47 rooms and suites are lushly decorated as befitting a mansion, some featuring four poster beds and velvet couches, with floral wallpaper and tasseled curtains that open to expansive views. Some have modern luxury touches, like terraces with private hot tubs.
There’s also the divine three bedroom Spring Cottage, privately nestled away on the banks of the Thames. Take one of the restored vintage boats for a private champagne cruise along the Thames to make it really special (from $310).
Rooms start at $555; suites at $1,912, and Spring Cottage at $2,802.
For more information on British travel, log on to Visit Britain.