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The Queen and London

She’s one of the most famous women in the world, photographed on countless occasions. She has attended glittering functions surrounded by the most famous people in the world. She has been visited by presidents, prime ministers and world leaders. Her face is one of the most recognisable on the planet, known to people from Australia to Azerbaijan, from Zaire to Zimbabwe. We’re talking – of course – about Kim Kardashian.

Actually, we’re really not. We’re talking about Queen Elizabeth the Second, or to give her full title, Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, but since that’s a bit of mouthful, let’s just call her, Her Majesty.

Her face is everywhere in the UK: from the postage stamps on our letters to the money in our pockets and love her or hate her, she is Britain’s longest-serving monarch and has been on the throne for over sixty-three years (beating the previous record-holder, Queen Victoria). She has also just celebrated her 90th birthday. If you visit London, the chances are you will not get to meet her in person, but there is plenty to see and do which can give you a glimpse of her life.

Her London home is, of course, Buckingham Palace, and a visit to the Palace’s State Rooms in the summer is a must-see for any London visitor. As you wander through the huge, decorated rooms of the Queen’s main home, it is like stepping into a Disney palace. Originally built in 1703 and bought by the Royal Family a century later, if you visit the Palace check out the flag flying on the palace’s roof. If it’s a Union Jack the Queen isn’t at home, but if it’s the Royal Standard, she’s in; you never know, she might invite you in for a cup of tea (but to save your disappointment, she probably won’t).

If you fancy feeling like a Queen at the shops, head over to Fortnum and Mason, granted a royal warrant in 1955 to exclusively supply the Queen with her groceries. While the rest of us make do with Sainsbury’s and Tesco, Her Majesty has the run of this historic department store, opened in 1707. With its beautifully decorated interiors and huge selection of goods this is a different kind of shopping experience. If you really want to feel like the Queen, apparently Fortnum’s rose and violet creams are a Buckingham Palace favourite.

If you were lucky enough to have been in London on 11th June, you would have seen the famous Trooping of the Colour, an impressive display of pageantry staged to mark the Queen’s official birthday (when you’re the Queen you have two birthdays – her real birthday is on 21st April, her official one is in June. Any monarch not born in the summer months will get two birthdays to have a better chance of good weather when staging their birthday celebrations. Most British people – knowing how changeable the British weather is – think “good luck with that.”). Over 1400 officers, 200 horses and 400 musicians from the Armed Forces present themselves for inspection by Her Majesty in a ceremony steeped with history.  And military music. A LOT of military music. If you love a brass section, then you’ll love the Trooping of the Colour.

The ‘colour’ in ‘Trooping of the Colour’ refers to the flags which were used by armies to identify themselves on the battlefield and which soldiers could identify and gather around. Without modern communication, a battlefield was a confusing place and flags allowed soldiers to see their fellow soldiers clearly from a distance. These flags and soldiers were displayed regularly and young officers would march between the ranks of troops inspecting them (that’s why it’s called ‘trooping’.) The ceremony was begun in the late 17th century and it was decided in 1748 to use the spectacle to mark the official birthday of the monarch. 

Don’t worry if you’ve missed it though. During the summer (and then alternate days the rest of the year), the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard takes place at 11.30 outside Buckingham Palace. The duty of guarding the monarch belongs to the Household Troops, better known as ‘The Guards’ and they have been guarding the monarch since 1660. The Changing of the Guard sees one regiment take over from another.

There are many other ways to experience a hint of royal London though: you can visit any of the other royal palaces or castles (Windsor Castle is the Queen’s favourite residence), you can get up close and personal with Her Majesty at Madame Tussaud’s (OK, it’s not REALLY the Queen but that doesn’t bother the long queue of tourists who wait patiently for their picture with her), see how the Royal Family is transported around London at the Royal Mews or soak up the royal history at Westminster Abbey (where the Queen was married and crowned). However you choose to get a flavour of Her Majesty, London has lots to offer the visitor. Happy birthday Ma’am!

Written by Lee Arnott

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