The Diamond Jubilee celebrations
Some of us might have noted the delicious irony of Guyana-born Colleen Harris, former press secretary to Queen Elizabeth II’s son, Prince Charles, being invited by the BBC World Service, on the occasion of the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Service on Tuesday, to provide insights into that most hallowed of British institutions, the Royal Family.
A few might even have picked up Ms Harris’s passing reference to her aunts in Guyana, who apparently still have photographs of the Queen on display. This perhaps has something to do with the lingering nostalgia some, mainly older folk, have for the colonial period, when the young Queen seemed to embody the hopes of the post-World War II generation across the then British Empire.
For many others, though, the colonial period has been left well behind and for younger people, especially, in Guyana and in much of the independent Caribbean, the constitutional monarchy is a mere curiosity, if not an anachronism.
Neither was everyone in the UK in a celebratory mood over the special four-day weekend to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne. There were protests by small groups of anti-monarchists demanding republican status and an end to hereditary privilege and power. They were, however, generally drowned out by crowds singing ‘God Save the Queen.’
But for some among the West Indian immigrant community, especially older people who moved to the UK in the early years of the Queen’s reign, there was a feeling that she should apologise for British colonialism and slavery, and the racism they have had to face in the UK.
Nonetheless, the Queen, her family and her loyal subjects appear to have enjoyed a jolly good time, with admirers across the Commonwealth also following, via the media, the celebrations.
Of course, nobody quite does pageantry like the British and they did not disappoint. Not even the pouring rain on Sunday and Tuesday could dampen the spirits of the Royal Family, participants and spectators, and it was typically British to carry on in the rain, as many have already noted.
Throughout the events of the four days, the massive outpouring of affection for the 86 year-old sovereign was heartfelt and she appeared to be genuinely touched by it, not least when the crowd at the Jubilee Concert on Monday night chanted the name of her husband, Philip, who had been hospitalized a few hours previously with a bladder infection. Indeed, in giving thanks to the nation and the Commonwealth for “the countless kindnesses” shown to her, she described the public response to her Diamond Jubilee as “a humbling experience.”
The modern Elizabethan era has seen momentous change in the UK and across the Commonwealth. The Queen has guided the monarchy and her family, and in a symbolical sense her people, through personal and national triumphs and crises, adapting to change, even if a little behind the pace of the rest of the country, but reflecting a rock-like solidity and fortitude in the face of daunting challenges. As the Daily Telegraph put it: “… one could reflect that what one was witnessing was the summation of a 1,000-year evolution towards a form of governance that has served the nation better than any other possibly could, with a head of state who embodies continuity, sangfroid and steadfastness – the national values – impervious to the transitory caprices of politics and current affairs.”
If this was perhaps a touch hyperbolic, then Prince Charles captured more succinctly and appropriately than most, what the celebrations were all about: “This is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, for making us proud to be British.”
Notwithstanding our political preferences and mixed feelings about colonial rule, we could do worse than reflect, after 46 years of independence, that we lack, in Guyana, an institution that stands above and apart from everyday politics, that sets a standard of selfless service to the country, and is itself a powerful symbol of national unity, to which we turn in moments of turmoil as well as celebration, and which makes us all unequivocally proud to be Guyanese.