Hanging Out with Royalists at the Queen's 90th Birthday Parade

Hanging Out with Royalists at the Queen's 90th Birthday Parade

It's the Queen's birthday (again) so I took my loud-mouthed American self down to The Mall to find out why people care so much about unelected representatives.
June 12, 2016, 4:30pm

The author, ready for a day of royalist fun. All photos by Chris Bethell

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

It's 8 AM on a Saturday morning, and I'm in a part of central London that most people try to avoid to bypass the hordes of tourists. But here I am anyway, throwing myself into a day that couldn't be a more stereotypical idea of what tourists imagine England to be.

We're in the middle of the Queen's official birthday weekend, Union Jack flags flapping everywhere you turn, where thousands of people have crammed themselves around St. James Park, Green Park and Buckingham Palace to see 1,600 soldiers and 300 horses perform the Trooping the Colour parade down the Mall for the old monarch.

I moved to London from America in September to study photojournalism and I feel like I've assimilated as well as a loud-mouthed American can do. I drink cider at my local pub. I walk in the rain and pretend it's not getting my socks wet. I feel I've found my place in London.

Not to do something half-assed (or arsed as you Brits say), I decide to go big with Trooping the Colour. My basic understanding is that it's a parade in which troops bear their regimental flags or "colours" to celebrate the British sovereign's official birthday.

That's not the same as the Queen's real birthday though, because Edward VII wasn't too into celebrating his birthday with outdoor activities in November. George VI—this Queen's dad—then made the official birthday in June a thing, to dodge his December birthday. And so my first level of bemusement comes to be—only in England would they change the date of a celebration to better the chances of the weather being good.

Anyway, I stroll up to people between Green Park and the Victorian Monument to get some answers to my mounting questions. First, why would people travel here just to have a possibly impaired, fleeting view of the Queen?

Here's Joseph Afrane. He's from Ghana, one of the Commonwealth countries, and says he's here to show not only his loyalty, but also his appreciation of how much she helps the economy. "People stay in the hotels for today. And she does so much work with charities. She helps people," he says.

I happen across three pensioners known in the royalist scene for their commitment. Their outfits show as much. Margaret Tyler baked a birthday cake for the Queen's 80th and 90th birthdays, and "hopes to bake a cake for her 100th birthday," while Tony Appleton is so legit that he hands me one of his own business cards claiming himself as a royalist and town crier.

Just kicking back with Margaret Tyler, Tony Appleton, and Terry Hutt (left to right)

He explains to me that "meeting the Queen when I was 17 and in the navy was the start of my life." Terry Hutt, who we last saw in April for the Queen's actual birthday, tells me that as an orphan, the royal family is his family and that "the royal blood is his blood." He says he was outside the hospital for the births of both Princess Charlotte and Prince George. Like I said: committed.

I then come across a group of women dressed in traditional Bavarian garb.

Christine Kaufmann, Lisa Burghart, Melissa Imhoff, and Anita Pfaffingir

Lisa Burghart and her friends say they came out just for the Queen's 90th because "she met so many people and now she can see us." I'm not entirely sure she can see us all, but fair enough.

It's now roughly 9 AM. Things are picking up and I'm starting to feel pretty excited. I find a girl wearing a Happy Birthday hat and ask her, her mother, and her mother's friend why they've staked out their spot for hours just to see the Queen go by.

Here's Charlotte Diaper, Amanda Rose, and Lindy Diaper (left to right)

Amanda Rose, in a sharp Union Jack vest, is quick to correct me. "It's not just to see the Queen. It's to bring people together and to show our support of the troops," she says.

To get into things a bit more, I buy a Union Jack flag and strike a pose with some "bobbies"—I just learned that nickname today.

I walk along the Mall and up to a soldier selling programs today, who is normally in the Irish Guards. He basically swerves all my questions about his daily life as a soldier and today's festivities but throws me a couple of winks after refusing to share his name. I dub him The Enigma.

Next comes the moment we've all been waiting hours for: the parade. As an ardent horse-lover, the echo of hooves on pavement almost captivates me more than seeing the Queen. But it's cool to see her too. What I am most impressed by during the parade is that the spectators not only cheered for the royal family, but also the troops and police officers. Their gratitude did not extend, however, to the street cleaners getting rid of the horse shit, who in my mind may have put in the hardest work today.

Just before 1 PM, making my way back to Buckingham Palace on the Mall, I meet Grace from Ghana. She finished her shift at work and then came down to the celebrations. "I have lived here since 1985," she says. "If I am in London, I come to the Trooping the Colour. I wouldn't miss it. Even work this morning didn't stop me."

And that's how this celebration seems to work: people here feel as though the least they can do for their Queen is show up, wave a little flag around, and cheer. I find myself getting swept up in it all, mostly because I've never seen this many Brits in one place all smiling so broadly. Ever. The people I speak to don't seem too concerned with questioning why they care about the Queen so much, when she just happened to be born into her family and life of privilege; they feel no justification is needed. But that's not what today is about. It's about an easily embraced sense of patriotism. And a bit of drizzle too, of course.

Follow Chris on Twitter