YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Jubilee Hits a Royal High Note

The scene* A crowd of 12,000 Britons picnics on the palace lawn for a classical concert, the first of two musical evenings feting Queen Elizabeth II.


LONDON — Once, at a Beatles royal performance, John Lennon suggested that the rich and mighty who wished to applaud from the expensive seats could just "rattle your jewelry." On a lingeringly warm Saturday evening, in the first of two huge public concerts in the gardens of Buckingham Palace marking Queen Elizabeth II's 50 years on the throne, there wasn't a lot of jewelry to rattle--just murmuring strings of pearls around titled necks.

And there weren't too many of the rich and mighty, either: only 12,000 run-of-the-mill Britons who had won the lottery of a lifetime, an invitation to the classical concert, the first of two musical evenings of the queen's Golden Jubilee.

Tonight's concert will be headlined by rock 'n' roll aristocrats and survivors such as Eric Clapton, Elton John, Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney--making it a classical concert in its own way, given that when the Beatles first topped the charts, the queen had been on the throne only a dozen years. (It wasn't long after that that Lennon and McCartney wrote the sprightly lyric, "Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl, but she doesn't have a lot to say," and it wasn't long after that that the Sex Pistols sang "God Save the Queen/She Ain't No Human Being," released in 1977, coinciding with the queen's Silver Jubilee.)

A recent "richest Britons" list ranked McCartney, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber, as a lot richer than their sovereign lady, the queen. British pop music has become an economic staple in the queen's reign, and news of slipping sales overseas prompted a newspaper report last week about an emergency government meeting to try to stop the slide. Imagine an American president contemplating such measures.

Saturday's classics are more to the queen's tastes than tonight's Atomic Kitten, Roger Daltrey and the sight of Queen's Brian May playing "God Save the Queen" on the roof of Buckingham Palace.

Even without the attractions of Buckingham Palace, the Saturday lineup could have filled any concert hall in the world: cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, simulcast playing Villa-Lobos in the palace's Music Room, which was aglow with light; opera's hot couple, tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Angela Gheorghiu, in a duet from "La Traviata" with champagne flutes in hand; and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, crossing two centuries and two continents with "Carmen" and "Porgy and Bess" selections.

While tonight's pops concert is considered the hot ticket--never mind the headliners, princes William and Harry will be there--but there was something in Saturday's concert to put sparkle in the gossips' champagne. No one said so publicly, but the last time most Britons heard Te Kanawa sing, it was at Prince Charles' wedding to Diana Spencer, who died in 1997 after a ghastly public breakup.

On Saturday, Charles' longtime lady love, Camilla Parker Bowles, was invited by the queen into the royal box--a first that royal watchers were chewing over all weekend. As many people were craning in their seats to have a look at the pink-clad Camilla as at the queen.

If this was Camilla's first official post-Diana invitation to the royal box, it was the first palace invitation, period, for thousands of Britons, the first time so many had swarmed the garden without being on some list of the good and worthy. People got their tickets by submitting names to a lottery, and winners were tempted less than one might have thought by scalpers, who were reported offering as much as 2,500 pounds (or about $3,640) for a pair of tickets.

Guests filed goggle-eyed through even the drearier parts of Buckingham Palace, a maze of royal offices with an office-block feel--the Pentagon, with marble busts. They picked up nylon picnic kits filled with dinners of salmon and chicken, or pasta for vegetarians, with a gold-stamped rain poncho and a half-bottle of pretty fair champagne.

Anyone strolling the grounds in the extraordinarily fine June weather could hear people chattering away on cell phones--"Guess where I am? Buckingham Palace!"--especially as they waited under the horse chestnut trees in long lines for bathrooms. Some of the 2 million ticket-seekers, like Sharon and Dale King of Hull, would have preferred to be among the 12,000 at tonight's pops concert. But as Sharon King sensibly admitted, "That's what the queen wanted, wasn't it, for people to have different experiences?"

"We didn't even know the words to the national anthem, ['God Save the Queen']," she admitted.

"You don't, I do," her husband twitted her. She is 27 and he is 39, a dinner-lady at a school cafeteria and a street cleaner for the local government, and they've heard no end of jokes about "the Kings going to see the queen."

Like a summer evening at the Hollywood Bowl, people spread their picnics on the grass, the largest mowed lawn in Britain. Like the Bowl, the quality of food didn't matter so much as the ambience, and in Bowl mode, there were flashy fireworks for Handel's "Royal Fireworks" music.

Pyrotechnics would wrap up a Bowl performance, but it was "God Save the Queen" that rounded out Saturday night, with everyone but the queen singing lustily, and peeking at their neighbors to see who needed to read the lyrics.

For tonight's concert, performers have been admonished not to scream or swear, expose untoward amounts of skin or act outrageous--are you listening, Ozzy Osbourne? The other big unknown is whether the queen, who joins her son and heir onstage for the finale singing of the Lennon-McCartney song "All You Need Is Love," will warble along. If she does, she may be among the few who have to read the lyrics, too.

Los Angeles Times Articles