2012 is set to see London hosting a whole range of events that will draw the attention of the world and this last weekend saw the first of these; The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
With the build-up to the extended weekend requiring us to cover every possible event that the Queen would be attending, we managed to get lucky with a few interesting jobs and some choice pool positions for Royal rota assignments. One of these was an event at Fortnum and Mason’s department store in central London. With this being the first time that the Queen, Camilla and Kate had attended an official event together since the wedding, it drew major press attention and I managed to get the position of pool photographer inside. Cheers boss!
As the Jubilee drew closer, I was sent to cover the Royal Windsor Horse Show. An annual event, this year saw the show include a special horse pageant, celebrating the Commonwealth countries around the world that the Queen has visited over the years. While there was some spectacular riding, there also was a rather dubious amount of national clichés thrown at the audience. With the Mexicans playing El Jarabe Tapatio, and Africa being summed up with a song from The Lion King, it didn’t test the audience’s cultural knowledge too much.
Another job saw the unveiling of the 23rd waxwork at Madame Tussauds of Queen Elizabeth II, and an eerily good job they’ve done of it this time. With some previous efforts looking more like a dodgy bloke in drag, the new one is absolutely faultless. It really is like looking at the actual person. I’m going to sound like I work for the London Tourism Board but if you’re visiting, go see!
Unlike events such as the Royal wedding, the Diamond Jubilee saw events taking place over four days so I had to try to plan the logistics for every day in advance. It might not sound tricky, but the list of things to remember seemed to grow longer every day.
As is the case whenever a large event likes this takes place, many photographers were trying to think of an unusual way to capture the occasion, such as Oli Scarff‘s 1952 camera providing a relevant vintage to some of his feature work. For me, I opted to break out the Dolly and also to have a play with Lomography’s “Spinner 360”, a 35mm film camera that captures a full panorama (post coming soon). Aside from making you look as though you’re launching a distress flare, the results proved to be quite good fun!
With so many different departments, security teams and promoters controlling access, the days running up to the weekend itself were filled with floods of emails giving contradicting information and requests to collect passes from all corners of London. Wristbands, lanyards and name cards were soon strapped to every limb.
With the weekend nearly upon us, a few of us stumbled into town for 5:30AM, for the rehearsal of Tuesday’s procession. It’s really quite an odd sight to arrive in town so early and have the streets lined with armed soldiers, stood to attention in silence. Unfortunately, the shot down the length of the Mall that we all wanted to get was off-limits due to a security rehearsal too. Ah, you can only imagine the high spirits we were all in after having set our alarms for 4:30AM, only to find we couldn’t get to where we wanted. Bahhhh…
The day of the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pageant finally arrived and I packed up my metric ton of camera equipment and headed to the Overground to get down to Imperial Wharf. In a wonderful start to the day, it turned out to be out of action, so I ended up having to make a hasty dash to the Underground to lug all the gear up and down a variety of escalators. Deep joy. Thankfully, I got to Imperial Wharf in good time, and was soon through security and heading towards the pier. Never having worked in such close proximity with the Royal family over such an extended period of time before, I asked my “handler” how we’d be approaching the day, regarding when I could and couldn’t shoot. “We’ll need to be careful so you will have to just photograph sparingly and stay out of the way” was the advice which, incredibly, went straight out of the window as soon as the guests arrived. Surprisingly, I didn’t receive any more guidance, so was left to make my own decisions about when I should step back and give it a rest.
After being told by one rather stony-faced senior Royal family member that there was “one too many photographers on the boat”, things calmed down to just being a nice level of mind-bendingly surreal. The guests on-board included the Duke of York (Prince Andrew), Earl and Countess of Wessex (Edward and Sophie), Princess Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (Prince being the Queen’s cousin), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (the Duke being the Queen’s other cousin), former Prime Minister John Major, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a selection of other dignitaries. While I’ve shot all of these people before in photo-call situations, it’s a whole different thing to be stuck in a rather small area with them for over six hours. Turning to chat to the person next to you, only to find it’s one of these people, didn’t lose any of its total surreality no matter how long I was on-board.
Thankfully, with them all being well-practiced public speakers, conversation didn’t prove too difficult with the hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the banks, providing more than enough of an ice-breaker. Aside from that, a number of the guests were camera buffs with Prince Andrew and Edward both asking about the Lomography Spinner 360, while John Major told me about the Leica camera and lenses that he was sent as a gift in 1992, that still sit in a drawer, totally unused. After he suggested that they were “obsolete and worthless by now”, I will admit that the temptation to suggest he donated them to a handy nearby photographer was there, but was beaten down by my honest side.
One of the photos that I hoped to get was of the boat passing by the massive print of the Royal family from 1977, that currently hangs on Sea Containers House. Thankfully, when the time came, the guests were on deck and I got to take a picture as they passed.
As we approached Tower Bridge, the threatened storm arrived and we were hit by the torrential rain. After mooring on the south side, we were then in place to observe the boats passing between us and the boat on the north side, carrying the Queen. With the rain lashing down, all but the bravest on board were sheltering below deck, but with the arrival of the final boat, everyone came back outside to dance along to the “Sailor’s Hornpipe”, sing along to “Rule Britannia” and show their respect during “God Save the Queen”. Standing in the middle of members of the Royal family during this final song has to be one of my strangest ever experiences. The mood went from jovial and fun, to the most unbelievably firm sense of intense, genuine respect in a fraction of a second. Quite a moment.
With the River Pageant out of the way, it was onwards to the Jubilee Concert…