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The queen’s candid views of coronation

Britain's Queen Elizabeth waits before delivering her speech in the House of Lords, during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London, Britain, May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON: Speaking for the first time about her coronation 65 years ago, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has revealed how uncomfortable riding in her carriage to the ceremony was and how wearing the Imperial State Crown risked “breaking your neck.” Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, was crowned queen on June 2, 1953, at London’s Westminster Abbey, in an ancient, grand service whose origins date back 1,000 years.

In a very rare, personal account for a BBC documentary to be aired Sunday, she speaks candidly about the occasion and some of the Crown Jewels that play a symbolic role in the ceremony.

“Horrible,” she said of the ride in the four-ton carriage from Buckingham Palace to the abbey where English monarchs have been crowned since 1066. “It’s only sprung on leather, not very comfortable.”

Elizabeth, now 91, was just 25 when she became queen on the death of her father George VI in 1952, with the coronation taking place the following year.

“It’s the sort of I suppose the beginning of one’s life really as a sovereign,” she said. “It is sort of a pageant of chivalry and old-fashioned way of doing things really. I’ve seen one coronation [her father’s in 1937] and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable.”

Giving her personal recollection, the queen also reveals how she had struggled with her coronation dress, which was embroidered in silk with pearls, and gold and silver thread. “I remember one moment when I was going against the pile of the carpet and I couldn’t move at all,” she said.

The documentary also features informal footage taken behind the scenes, including images of son and heir Prince Charles, then aged 4, and his younger sister Anne playing underneath the queen’s long robe.

“Not what they’re meant to do,” the queen quips.

Charles has previously revealed how his mother had practiced wearing the 2.2-kilogram St. Edward’s Crown while he was being bathed.

Elizabeth wore two crowns for the occasion: the St. Edward’s Crown, which she has never worn since, and the diamond-encrusted Imperial State Crown which she wears at formal occasions such as the opening of Parliament when she delivers a speech outlining the government’s legislative plans.

“You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break and it [the crown] would fall off,” she said smiling. “So there are some disadvantages to crowns but otherwise they’re quite important things.”

The documentary shows her peering inquisitively and then grinning as she taps at pearls hanging on the 1-kilogram crown, two of which are said to have been bought by her Tudor namesake Queen Elizabeth I.

“They were meant to be Queen Elizabeth’s earrings,” she said. “They don’t look very happy now. Most pearls like to be living creatures so they’ve just been hanging out here for years which is rather sad.”

Elizabeth has never given a formal interview during her long reign and coronation expert Alastair Bruce, whom the queen spoke to for the program, said their 1-1/2-hour interaction had been a “conversation.”

“You don’t ask the queen a direct question, so you pose a comment that the queen then responds to,” he told reporters.

He said he had the impression the queen was not fond of the heavy crown and was “very practical” in her treatment of the crown jewels.

He cited how during their conversation the crown had been slightly out of the queen’s reach so he asked the crown jeweler to help move the table it was on a bit closer. Instead, the queen pulls the table toward her.

Bruce said: “If you look very closely, the table suddenly just goes ‘woomf’ and the crown ‘woomf’ and the crown jeweler is left there with nothing and she says, ‘Well you know, it’s my crown.’”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 13, 2018, on page 15.

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