Last Sunday evening, I am sure that you, like many of us here in the Evergreen and This England office, eagerly tuned into the excellent documentary “The Coronation” on BBC1. This was the first time that we had the opportunity to hear Her Majesty The Queen speak about the solemn, historic ceremony that took place on 2nd June 1953 and marked the beginning of her life as Sovereign. In conversation with the presenter Alastair Bruce, The Queen allowed us a privileged glimpse into what has to be the most treasured aspect of the nation’s heritage: the monarchy.
Recalling moments from the day itself and even looking back to her father's coronation in 1937, The Queen was radiant, witty and positively sparkled on screen. She commented: "I've seen one coronation, and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable." Her exceptional wisdom and knowledge, was combined with a wonderfully dry sense of humour and refreshingly no-nonsense approach. I loved how she described travelling in the magnificent Gold State Coach as "Horrible" because it is sprung on leather, which doesn't make for a comfortable journey.
The documentary was the first time that The Queen had seen St. Edward's Crown, with which she was crowned, since her coronation. It is astonishing to discover that the 17th-century centrepiece of the Crown Jewels weighs more than 4lbs. Archive footage showed the powerfully symbolic moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury held the crown aloft, in front of the 8,000 guests in Westminster Abbey, and then carefully placed it on the 27-year-old monarch's head.
We heard The Queen's thoughts on the weight of crowns as she looked at the rather more familiar Imperial State Crown, which she wears for the State Opening of Parliament. Although it is lighter (at just over 2lbs) than St. Edward's Crown, she pointed out that its weight meant she could not look down to read her speech for fear of breaking her neck. (Whenever I see this event on television, I have always marvelled at how The Queen manages to balance this dazzling crown on her head. Now we know that her secret is to raise the speech to eye level. ) With a smile and a twinkle in her eyes she commented: "So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they're quite important things."
Undoubtedly, hearing Her Majesty's thoughts and reflections, were the highlights of this brilliant documentary, but what also stood out for me were the contributions from other people who were involved on that memorable day - such as the group of former choirboys who remembered when all but one of them lost their voices in the ceremony. One of The Queen's six Maids of Honour, Lady Anne Glenconner, recalled the moment when she thought she was going to faint, but fortunately Black Rod, who was standing nearby, came to her rescue and steadied her against one of the Abbey's pillars.
Amid all the pomp and pageantry, solemnity and splendour, the programme showed the human and humorous side of the proceedings, proving that even with the impressive organisational skills of the Duke of Norfolk and the 200-strong workforce, which started preparing the Abbey in January 1953, there were inevitably some things that didn't go quite according to plan. The Queen remembered how, at one point, she couldn't move against the pile of the Abbey carpet because of the weight of her coronation robes.
The archive film, much of it in colour, was a joy as we saw London dressed in all her finery and at the centre of the world stage, with flag-waving and cheering crowds. This was the first time that a coronation had been televised and it is estimated that more than 20 million people watched the event in Britain alone. In the forthcoming spring issue of Evergreen (click here to order a copy), we are asking readers to send in their memories of the coronation - whether they saw it on television, joined the crowds in London, or celebrated with a street party. We will be featuring these recollections in our summer issue, which is published in June - 65 years after that happy and glorious occasion that marked the dawn of the second Elizabethan age.