June 20 2002 12:00 AM ET
Once upon a time in London
Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee celebration in London was quite a treat for one gay traveler, and indeed for all the queens in England
When I first heard of all the Jubilee events that were to take place in London in June of this year, I wasn’t sure I was going to go. Having once lived in England, I had many friends there that I could see at the same time, but I still hesitated in booking a flight.
What finally clinched it for me was the death of the much beloved Queen Mum. Her funeral was a spectacular affair, but Great Britain was certainly changing, as any royal watcher knows. Twenty years in the future, with Prince Charles or his handsome son William on the throne, who knows what pomp and circumstance will still go on in the last of the world’s great empires. For the queen to have lasted 50 years is a wondrous achievement, and barring some future medical miracle, I knew I would never see such an occasion again in my lifetime.
The much beloved Queen Mum
Among my own British friends there is a strong antiroyalist sentiment, and many were completely disinterested. Most had planned trips away, claiming that the news was predicting torrential rainstorms anyway. Yet, as I walked the streets of London in the days before, especially in the gay neighborhoods, I sensed a certain excitement. Gay bookstores of course played on the "queen" theme in window displays, and the bars were festooned with patriotic Union Jacks.
The much beloved Queen
I have to tell you that I was in no way disappointed when the biggest days of the Jubilee arrived, and while a journalist is supposed to be impartial, the spectacle made it hard to be. I arrived near Buckingham Palace the night of the rock concert. Can you imagine what it’s like to hear Queen’s "We Will Rock You" over the palace grounds? We banged that on our desks to annoy our schoolteachers when I was a kid—now it was played for the queen’s amusement. Topping even that, though, was that Dame Edna was one of the night’s hostesses, and she was making drag jokes to the queen. Even more odd was seeing Ozzie Ozbourne on stage at the palace—though he bit no bats’ heads off. He was joined by a multitude of the world’s greatest rock stars singing "God Save the Queen" at the end of it all.
The much beloved Dame Edna
An hour later I was just a few feet from where the queen stood to light the fireworks that roared over the Palace in her honor. She looked up every so often in amazement, almost with an expression indicating, "Is all this for me?" I have to say that she reminded me of my mother, nearly the same age, and often with the same expression of wonder. After talking with people, I found I was not the only one who had the same feeling.
None of this matched the pageantry of the next day, the date of her actual ascension to the throne 50 years ago. I arrived early for a perfect overview of the palace. Prince William came out in an open coach along with his brother, to the joyful screams of young girls—and, I am sure, many young boys in the crowd as well. But more magical was seeing the queen soon after as she left the palace in her Golden State Coach. It really was like a fairy tale come alive to see it in person, the queen smiling and waving to the crowds. After her visits throughout the city, she returned triumphantly, surrounded by a sea of children with gold banners.
Finally, after many hours the queen retired to the palace, returning to greet the crowd from her fabled balcony window. Thousands upon thousands cheered and waved their Union Jacks in an uproarious rhythm. More than a dozen fighter jets screamed overhead in salute, followed by a Concorde jet streaming red, white, and blue exhaust into the air. The queen made two encore waves before finally closing the door good-night. It was only then that the English rain poured down, as if waiting for her and the nation to finish out this fantastic once in a lifetime weekend.