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…

28 Responses to “The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II”

  1. Amazing. I think Beatrice and Eugenie are really pretty, actually.

    Posted by Kirsten
  2. Amazing as always!

    Posted by Nick
  3. Fascinating account. Awesome pictures which are so intimate and informal of the Royal family which you rarely get to see.

    Posted by Sarah
  4. Brilliant, mate. A great read.

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  5. Leon, these are simply amazing images, what an incredible experience, I always follow your work and can’t wait for the next post!!

    Posted by Suzanne
  6. Wow, what an incredibly priviledged view you had. Amazing photos. Great to see the royals being normal!

    Posted by Sharron
  7. Really enjoyed looking through these. Tsk to John Major for hanging onto the Leica gear! Eugenie’s nails must have taken a steady hand! Fabulous angles, so interesting.

    Posted by Julie Skelton
  8. Absolutely love these shots, captured the joy and emotion of the day and the build up. And yes B&E are pretty girls too ;)

    Posted by Sarah Tobin
  9. When I grow up (again!), I’m going to be the photographer Leon Neal. :-)

    Nice work, my liege!

    Posted by pixpilgrim
  10. Watched the boat parade on TV – hah, I knew it was you on that vessel!

    Posted by frank
  11. Seeing as I couldn’t actually be there, how nice to see it all through your lens. Amazing work Mr. Neal as always!

    Posted by Rochelle
  12. It feels very surreal even looking at photos of the Royals in such close proximity and in such confined spaces – it must have been very odd being there! Great shots by the way!

    Posted by Jonny
  13. Nice set Leon. Why was the army chap pulling a funny face?

    Posted by Stu
  14. Excellent. All I can say is you work bloomin’ hard! But what great results, and wanted to say, I think I looked forward to seeing your blog more than I did watching the ‘Luvley Jubilee’ on the box. Not disappointed. Best thing about the Jubilee so far!

    Posted by rebecca michael
  15. Wow, I feel like I was there. Love the shot of Eugenie’s nails, too.

    Posted by Hannah Beatrice
  16. What an amazing experience for you and fantastic photos!

    Posted by Jo Bowling
  17. Great set of photos, great experience for you and fantastic to read feel like I was there

    Posted by John Evans
  18. Wow! Cheers for all the comments, peeps!

    @Kirsten – Thanks petal. I couldn’t possibly comment, my dear. ;) x

    @Nick – Exceptionally kind of you.

    @Sarah – Yeah, it was just such a bizarre experience and from a job that I assumed would be very controlled and unsatisfying.

    @Sandeha – Thanks boss! If I hadn’t been carrying so much gear and in such tight conditions, Dolly would have had more of a hand in the days coverage but alas not. Next time… ;)

    @Suzanne – Crikey. That’s a hell of a comment! Cheers m’dears!

    @Sharron – Yup, it turns out they’re real after all.

    @Julie Skelton – As I said, there was a rather large part of me wanting to say “yeah, it’s worthless all that horrible film stuff. Give it to me as I might have a use for the strap…”

    @Sarah Tobin – Thanks Sarah!

    @Akin – Haha! I assure you, no-one wants to live with this brain. *fizzzz*

    @Frank – There are FAR too many pictures floating around on facebook of me looking like a total gimp, in among the Royals. Well spotted though! :)

    @Rochelle – No worries, petal! Always happy to provide sight services for those abroad.

    @Jonny – Yup, it’ll take quite a job to knock this one off the top of my oddlist!

    @Stu – I couldn’t really write it in the official caption as it could be disputed but let’s just say have you ever tried to stifle a yawn when you know you shouldn’t?

    @Rebecca Michael – Cheers, m’dears! There was some serious work put in over the weekend by everyone covering it. I think the whole news photography industry in London has been in a bit of a daze since then. Jubihangover.

    @Hannah Beatrice – That took some pondering. I saw them at first and thought “should I be wandering over and asking to take a picture of a member of the Royal family’s nails?” but by the end, conditions on board dictated that everyone had to relax a little so thought I’d give it a go! I would have preferred to have the hand in front of her face but you can’t have everything, I guess!

    @Jo Bowling – Thanks Jo!

    @John Evans – Cheers John! Just think of the money you’ll save on Olympic tickets when I blog my coverage later in the year… ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  19. That’s a very interesting read Leon and you made the most of it with the lens. I hadn’t intended going but was pursuaded to make a late dash to meet up with my brother and his youngest along Bankside. It took a lot of blagging to get past the security bods who’d set up barriers on the South Bank. As for John Major and his ‘never to see the light of day, stored in a dark place to keep it pristine’ Leica gear, isn’t that in keeping with most Leica owners? At least the one’s I know are like that.. I’ll be looking out for the Lomo post.

    Posted by Tim
  20. Cheers Tim! Well observed on the Leicas! :) There were plenty out over the weekend though. It obviously means it’s photojournalism when the Leica comes out! Lomo post to come on Monday. I’ve just published part two of the Jubilee post to fill your time though… ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  21. An upgrade from Sirte! Fantastic work from the kick ass katiba photographer in chief :)

    Posted by kak
  22. @”KAK”! Haha! Brilliant! Cheers petal! Good to hear from you. As for being an upgrade, I assure you that Jubilees are a vicious business. Those Royalists are like scone-fuelled animals, desperately searching for their next hit of Blue Blood. I love the smell of Corgi in the morning…

    Posted by tabascokid
  23. Great stuff
    I think your shots really give an insight into what
    Looked like a great occasion

    Posted by Stephen
  24. awesome cous in law

    Posted by will
  25. Top work, some really candid fun shots of everyone onboard…looks like your best buds now with Andy.

    Posted by simon
  26. Great work Leon. I photographed Her Maj when she came down to open a new RNLI Inshore Station in Cowes. Had a rather weird discourse with her press officer, she said “you can’t use a lens like that near Her Majesty” I was using a 300 2.8 Canon lens not mega so found her displeasure some what odd.

    Posted by Patrick Eden
  27. Cheers Patrick. How bizarre! How close were you to her? Far larger lenses than that are used on a daily basis around her so all I can think was that you were working in a relatively small area with her. That’s a very odd thing for them to say, I assure you!

    Posted by tabascokid
  28. The whole thing was a bit surreal. The gig was to photograph the Queen for the Yacht Club that is next door, she was only leaving via their pontoon to go to the next venue. I wasn’t part of the “official” press gaggle but the Palace had OKed my presence. Her transition was literally a walk of about 50 metres, so I estimated about 2 minutes of good view. The club shares common waterfront with the RNLI so I joined the rest of the press and said my hellos to the lady who sussed who I was. The Queen was quite a distance away, about 30 feet, and we were behind a safety barrier and I was actually shooting over the shoulder of a radio guy. Maybe I was a rouge element she didn’t really need. The security blokes who are always brilliant were happy with me and one even moved a colleague out of my sight line. Still got some good stuff, the kind of job where you earn your daily bread and some.

    Posted by Patrick Eden

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