3 June 2013
AAM at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant - one year on
Watch a film about the AAM at the Thames Pageant
AAM principal double bass Judith Evans reflects on the day
Walking through Hyde Park early on Thursday morning on my way to rehearsals at Cadogan Hall, I came across a sudden circle of horses — massive, black animals — their riders dressed in the full regalia of the Household Cavalry. I imagine that, for them, this controlled circling is a daily occurrence, involving no small amount of discipline and probably some boredom, but passing by I was profoundly moved by the beauty and solemnity of the spectacle.
I love that about London — those epiphanic moments in which worlds collide, worlds of past and present, ordinary and extraordinary. Moments where routine is transformed into ritual and individuals on both sides of the experience are transported beyond themselves: for without the spectator there can be no spectacle.
I was to feel this peculiar mix of exhilaration and heartbreak many times over the course of Sunday, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant was an epiphanic moment on steroids.
On the one hand there was the ordinary: the all-too-predictable Extended-Bank-Holiday Drizzle; the freezing June temperatures; for some in AAM a 4.30am start; and hours and hours of waiting.
On the other hand there was the extraordinary: the inexpressible beauty of London without cars; the novelty of the capital seen from the river — the Dickensian wharves regenerated, the dome of St Paul’s, the Globe (how rural the route of the original Pageant must have been!), and the magnificent wealth of the river developments.
And this was merely the backdrop to the Pageant itself. Having made our way on the barge from Butler’s Wharf to our holding place in Wandsworth, we finally turned east again and fell in behind the vast patchwork of the man-powered boats. Then there was this incredible moment as we came out from beneath Battersea Bridge to the opening bars of Handel’s Fireworks Music: a wall of sound behind us – brass and timpani and the amplification from our own speakers – almost propelling us; coming face to face with the assembled Royal family aboard the Spirit of Chartwell (a personal wave from Kate Middleton); seeing my family above us on Albert Bridge. ‘Privileged’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
But that was just the start, for far and away the most extraordinary sight of the whole Diamond Jubilee Pageant was the people: those stoic rowers with two hours ahead of them; the gondoliers, old and young; the sailors on HMS Belfast; the policemen standing in the rain; groups encapsulated in the London Eye; the RNLI volunteers; parties almost capsizing boats as they craned their necks to see the flotilla passing.
And the most extraordinary of the extraordinary people were the crowds on the banks of the Thames that went on and on and on.
Yet these extraordinary people were also the most ordinary, with their umbrellas and flags — not on boats, not hanging from expensive balconies, not even VIPs on bridges — just your man on the street. Yet they were the spectators who made it the spectacle it was.
Every single person associated with the Pageant was united in a common purpose, and that communality of purpose brings out the best in human nature: it makes us nicer to one another. Yet we rarely feel that communality of purpose except in times of crisis, which is why Spectacle is necessary to humanity: it is ultimately life-affirming.
As part of the Pageant, I finally understood what I’ve often heard on the BBC about the atmosphere of these events — its sheer palpability. It was living and noisy and infinitely powerful.
Hours later, at dusk, I was walking along the river at Chiswick with my family. A flotilla of dinghies passed us in an arrow formation. These were the marshall boats: first to arrive, last to leave. And we stood alone on the bank and waved our flags at the distant anoraked figures.
And they waved back.