Coronation 60 years on: What went through the young Queen's head as she was crowned?

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Britain on 2nd June 1953 was a very different place than it is now. "I Believe" by Frankie Laine was No1 in the UK Singles Chart ("La La La" by Naughty Boy ft Sam Smith is now No1); Wolverhampton Wanderers were the English football champions and Blackpool had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in the now famous "Matthews Final" FA Cup Final exactly a month previously (now Manchester United are the English football champions and Wigan Athletic have just won the FA Cup for the first time ever); a pint of beer in a pub cost 9p (3 is now the average price of a pint of beer); Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister; and there were 36 million people in the UK (compared to almost 65 million, and growing rapidly, now). Britain was still a great power, the head of an empire which still encompassed the globe.

Not only that, but Britain was still recovering from the ravages of war. Her cities were still lying partially in ruins. Sweet rationing came to an end that year after ten years - so children were happy - but rationing did not fully come to an end until 1954.

But there was something that Britain of 2013 has in common with the Britain of 1953 - almost unbelievably it still has the same Head of State now as it did then, as do the other 15 nations of which Elizabeth II is Queen: Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; The Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Solomon Islands; and Tuvalu (but she was initially Queen of many more countries besides).

The Coronation of a young woman of just 27 on 2nd June 1953 lifted the spirits of a war-ravaged nation......

Queen's Coronation sixty years: What went through 27-year-old's head as she was crowned?

1 Jun 2013
Daily Mirror

On the streets on London, crowds were already gathered, wrapped in soaking wet newspapers and Mackintoshes

Crowning moment: Queen at her Coronation. It had the then biggest television audience in history, with 27 million of Britain's then population of 36 million, and millions more around the world, watching it.

With a deep breath, a young woman buried her nerves to address a nation on the wireless – her first time as their newly crowned Queen.

She vowed: “I have pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”

Queen Elizabeth II made the promise just hours after her Coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Tomorrow marks 60 years since she became the 39th Sovereign to be crowned there, beginning with William the Conqueror on Christmas Day in 1066.

In 1953, Britain was recovering from the ravages of war, with its cities still littered with ruined buildings.

Now, a 27-year-old was taking her place as the head of state for one of the most powerful nations on Earth.

But for the rest of the country, it was a rare day of joy and celebration.

Despite being June, it was a very cold, windy and wet day when Elizabeth was woken at 5am by her trusted dresser Bobo MacDonald.

Outside on the streets of London, despite the early hour, crowds were already gathered, wrapped in soaking wet newspapers and Mackintoshes.

In typical British spirit the crowd sang and shared cups of tea. From dawn a procession of the 29,200 sailors, soldiers and airmen had begun to line the route from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

Then, just before dawn, the news reached the Palace that Everest had been conquered two weeks previously by a British expedition.

Prince Philip seemed far more excited about the scaling of the summit than the impending Coronation – but that was just his way of keeping his wife calm.

Finishing touches: Flag factory at Sidcup, Kent

Not only had she had to learn her lines, as the star of the show with a complicated part, she had been entertaining continuously.

A couple of days earlier there was a grand banquet for visiting heads of state and 20 crowned sovereigns.

Hospitality for the Commonwealth leaders reached its climax with a lunch with the prime ministers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Southern Rhodesia, as well as British PM Sir Winston Churchill.

The princess, normally so shy, was elated by the atmosphere.

When a lady-in-waiting asked her if she was nervous she replied: “Of course I am but I really do think Aureole will win.” She was referring to her horse running in the Epsom Derby a week later.

In the previous months the Queen not only polished her words but rehearsed the ancient ceremony itself.

With a long bed sheet attached to her shoulders, representing the velvet train of the Robe of State, she and her six Maids of Honour practised folding, walking, holding and halting along the long gallery of Buckingham Palace.

Amid much laughter they also practised getting in and out of a “coach” made of an arrangement of chairs.

All her Maids of Honour were daughters of Dukes, Marquesses and Earls, unmarried, and aged between 17 and 23.

One of them, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, then 18, remembers: “The train was so heavy it was like lifting up a carpet.

"A dead weight. The Queen was very much in control, extraordinarily strong and upright, with a measured step.”

The Imperial State Crown was secretly taken to the Palace and, to ready herself for its 2lb weight, the princess wore it for the best part of a day.

She wore it at her desk, while she did her work and read the newspapers and even kept it on during 5pm tea, managing to hold a cup while keeping the heavy crown steady.

The Coronation was also to be televised – something Elizabeth overruled the PM to ensure happened.

On the day an estimated 27 million people in Britain watched it on the small screen, a further three million lining the streets.

At the time, Britain’s population was just over 36 million.

The Coronation in 1953

The cameras meant the princess also had to think about make-up. Normally she never wore mascara or foundation, just a light dusting of powder and her signature red lipstick.

Elizabeth Arden experimented with make-up on models with similar looks to Elizabeth in order to get a foundation that would look equally good under the bright lighting of the Abbey and in the coach.

Three days before the big day, Norman Hartnell delivered the Coronation gown.

When the princess tried it on she used one word to describe it – glorious. Unknown to her, Hartnell had embroidered an extra four-leaved shamrock on the left side of her dress – a good-luck omen which the Queen’s hand often touched during the day.

Shortly before 11am the princess arrived at the Abbey. As her Maids of Honour helped her out of the coach and unfurled her 18ft train, she quipped: “Ready, girls!”

There was one moment of trouble when the friction between her robes and the carpet made it hard for the princess to move forward, so she said to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher: “Get me started!”

The procession through central London

The only other alarm came when Maid of Honour Lady Ann Coke, then 20, nearly fainted.

She remembers: “I wiggled my toes as I had been told and had some brandy which the Archbishop gave me from a tiny flask.”

Four hours later it was all over and the newly crowned Queen was back at the Palace.

She briefly relaxed and joined her Maids of Honour before the official photographs.

She watched with amusement as Prince Charles tried to get the girls to smell his hair, which nanny Helen Lightbody had smoothed down with his father’s hair oil.

Elizabeth II with her ladies-in-waiting just after her Coronation

She has never spoken about it but the Queen was certainly aware of the weight of history she was taking on and that her private life had effectively just ended.

Then, according to her Maids of Honour, she: “Kicked off her heels, took off her crown... and heaved a huge sigh of relief.”

The photographer

The photographer: Chris Barham

Chris Barham – then a 20-year-old junior with a picture agency – wanted to make a name for himself and found the best vantage point for a picture of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in their golden carriage.

He admits he had to tell a few white lies to capture the iconic shot – which was used on the front page of the Daily Mirror the next day.

“I knew she would go down Northumberland Avenue and turn on to the Embankment.

“It was being policed by lovely coppers and one asked, ‘Are you supposed to be standing there, sir?’

“I said, ‘I’m a famous photographer in Fleet Street and the Queen herself has asked me to stand here and get a good picture of her’.

"They said, ‘Did she really say that, sir? That’ll be OK then’.

“All these kids were waving and shouting, so the Queen was looking at them. I just waited until I could see them both in the camera and ‘click’.

“It made a happy picture. She was waving and the Duke was smiling.”

The actress

The actress: Barbara Windsor in 1953

Barbara in 2013

Former EastEnders star and Carry On icon Barbara Windsor, 75, made her stage debut at the age of 13 and was performing in London on Coronation Day.

She says: “I was 15 and in a big West End show called Love From Judy, together with June Whitfield.

"I needed to get to the Saville Theatre in ­Shaftesbury Avenue and I was terrified I’d be late.

“I got out of the Tube at Leicester Square and suddenly it was mayhem.

“Everyone was laughing and had flags, it really was magnificent. There was so much joy and excitement. It was glorious.

“I remember my mother told me about the end of the war and everyone rushed to the West End to celebrate and go crazy, and this seemed the same. But we worried we’d have no one in to watch us.

“I was talking to June about this the other day and we were both so scared that we were going to be late.

"The rules were so tough back then and we could have got into big trouble. But there was no need to worry. Everyone was so happy.”

The Household Cavalryman

The Household Cavalryman: Clive Grantham

Clive Grantham, 82, from York, says that the proudest day of his career was escorting the Queen on the most important day of her life.

He says: “I had already done the King’s funeral but this was a really special day.

“The atmosphere was ­indescribable. Everyone was so happy to be there.

"The noise was deafening, the crowds were cheering and waving but the horses had been trained to prepare them for the noise.

“I wasn’t nervous. I just took it in my stride and focused on what I had to do.

“It was a long day. After breakfast we weren’t allowed to eat or drink until we got back to the barracks. Then I escorted the Queen to Edinburgh.

“I still have an album full of photos from the Coronation and my days in the Household Cavalry.

"My great-grandchildren love to see pictures of me in my uniform.”

The first aider

The first aider: Audrey Tibbles

Audrey Tibbles, 86, of ­Beckenham, Kent, worked as a Red Cross volunteer at events including Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral and Prince Charles’s wedding but the Coronation holds special memories.

She says: “I was stationed on the John Lewis site in Oxford Street.

"The store had been bombed and Weston biscuits set up a stand for the crowd to watch the procession. It even provided refreshments.

“There was a TV in each corner so we could watch the ceremony. I had never even seen a television set before.

“The atmosphere was wonderful, there were ­thousands of people and some had been there overnight.

“As volunteers, we arrived early. We had to deal with minor things, giving aspirin for headaches and treating cuts, but we weren’t too busy.

“I saw the Queen’s gold carriage go past.

“The Queen of Tonga still stands out in my mind – I was impressed by the way she stood up and waved to the crowd.”

Queen's Coronation sixty years: What went through 27-year-old's head as she was crowned? - Mirror Online
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jun 2nd, 2013 at 12:28 PM..
+1 / -1
#2  Top Rated Post
The last thing to go through a bug's mind as it hits your windshield is its a$$. I'm sure Elizabeth was wishing that her dad had lived a little longer so she would have more time with her young family.
+1 / -1
I seems that Britons have not out grown their belief in faery tales, especially Blackleaf. When will they ever grow up?
Quote: Originally Posted by Walter View Post

The last thing to go through a bug's mind as it hits your windshield is its a$$. I'm sure Elizabeth was wishing that her dad had lived a little longer so she would have more time with her young family.

That's the first thing that came to mind when I read the title too.
L Gilbert
"Coronation 60 years on: What went through the young Queen's head as she was crowned?"
Probably something like, "My God, this is boring. My girdle and bra itch and I can't scratch. This goofy hat keeps wanting to fall off. This man beside me really needs a breath mint. I need a drink. But on the bright side, I may be too busy to tend to the brats and finding nannies probably won't be hard cuz I can delegate that job. No more scrubbing pots n pans and cooking. Brilliant, my allowance went up! Now I can really afford the 3000 bottles of wine. " etc.
Quote: Originally Posted by Walter View Post

The last thing to go through a bug's mind as it hits your windshield is its a$$. I'm sure Elizabeth was wishing that her dad had lived a little longer so she would have more time with her young family.

I wouldnt be surprised. Im glad I wasnt born into that family. I liked her uncles position on it. If you cant enjoy your life with that job, quit.