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A little over 10 years ago, as the palace was planning for the diamond jubilee celebrations of 2012, Prince Charles had an idea.
Wouldn’t it be fun if his parents processed down the Thames on a royal barge for their big day? The concept harked back to ever-popular conceptions of Tudor courtly habits, and made a significant nod to Prince Philip’s naval associations. It got the nod. A barge accompanied by a flotilla of 1,000 smaller boats processing down the river was to form the centerpiece of Britain’s big jubilee.
Alas, the first weekend in June 2012 dawned with freezing cold temperatures, strong winds and such copious amounts of driving rain that the Sky News outside broadcast tent would later collapse under the strain. But Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip went ahead and stood on that barge for four long hours as it wended its way down the river.
Philip was admitted to hospital the next day and many still believe it marked a significant turn for the worse in his health.
Anxious to avoid a repeat of this debacle in 2022, the plans for next year’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years since Elizabeth ascended to the throne, are more conventional.
There will be a four-day holiday, with two bank holidays tacked on either side of the weekend. There will be a pageant, live music in the Royal Parks, the Trooping of the Color and church services up and down the land. There will be a balcony appearance in front of a thronging (and hopefully dry) crowd at Buckingham Palace.
But hopes that the event is, as a result, likely to go off much more smoothly than the 2012 horror show, have been thrown into doubt by the queen’s mystery health problems.
As Norman Baker, a former government minister and author of the book ...and What Do You Do? What the Royal Family Don’t Want You to Know, put it to The Daily Beast: “The fact of the queen missing the COP26 summit this weekend is very significant. There are suspicions she is really quite unwell and that we are not being told the whole truth, so the biggest question of all is whether there actually will be a jubilee next year.”
News that the 95-year-old monarch has also been forced to give up her great hobby of riding two months ago and has not even been able to walk her dogs over the past week have also added to question marks about the true state of her health.
In addition, the palace also faces an unwelcome headache as it tries to figure out how to minimize the risks of being embarrassed by the disgraced ninth in line to the throne (Prince Andrew) and how to paper over the deep cracks in the not-exactly straightforward relationship with the sixth, seventh and eighth in line too (Prince Harry, Archie, and Lilibet), as well as Harry’s wife Meghan Markle.
Andrew, the latest thinking goes, will simply be completely excised from all official celebrations.
A report in the Sun this week said courtiers want Andrew to be to be “invisible” during the four-day commemorations. They are said to be particularly alarmed by the fact that Judge Lewis Kaplan has ruled that disclosure in the case, which could include testimony from Andrew must be completed by July 14, meaning there is every likelihood that coverage of the queen’s jubilee could be competing for coverage with tawdry allegations about Andrew’s sex life.
Andrew’s lawyers, of course, are still hoping the case gets thrown out—and Andrew is still said to cherish the dream that such a development would pave the way for his return to public life, although his representatives did not respond to a request by The Daily Beast for comment.
Charles would still be adamantly opposed to the distraction of even a sighting of Prince Andrew at official jubilee celebrations, but the queen’s ongoing private support for Andrew—he was photographed on Thursday driving to Windsor Castle, presumably for a private visit to his ailing and/or convalescing mother—might complicate matters in the event of Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s legal case being dismissed.
While Harry is likely to show up and do whatever his grandmother asks of him—US Weekly reported Thursday that this week Harry “felt helpless being 5,000 miles away in Montecito, and has been checking in non-stop with her”—it seems hard to imagine Meghan would be ready to willingly sacrifice her children’s hard-won and jealously guarded privacy for the sake of enlivening a royal showcase.
She is known to be deeply concerned about the security implications of her children’s royal status, and hugely resistant to offering up her children for consumption by the media. Royal courtiers were said to have been secretly relieved she wasn’t able to make it to Prince Philip’s funeral on medical grounds (she was pregnant), but all sides are unlikely to be offered such an easy excuse for non-attendance this time round. Harry and Meghan’s office did not reply to a query about their plans for the jubilee.
And, of course, Harry’s attendance is also likely to attract controversy as he will just be gearing up the PR machine for the publication of his tell-all, deeply personal memoir in the autumn, the prospect of which is already causing consternation at the palace.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment to The Daily Beast on whether the Sussexes would be invited to appear on the palace balcony with the queen, but all the signs are that the appearance will not involve, as it did in 2012, the presence of Prince Harry.
As she rests up this weekend, without even the comfort of a medicinal hot whiskey, having been advised to abstain from drinking by her doctors, the shape of events in June next year is probably the last thing on the queen’s mind.
But for her army of planners, spinners and advisers, it’s likely to be an increasingly pressing concern as the winter wears on.