The big question: mauve or lilac? York’s royal encounter
|April 23, 2012||Posted by Georgie Tindale under national|
The tension is palpable. Neon policemen pace the bursting barriers with purpose, security vans line the cobbled back-alleys, and a solitary union flag waves in anticipation, held by a girl wearing diamanté sunglasses and too much foundation. The uncharacteristically warm weather is cheering for those who have been waiting since the small hours, and the birds swoop past the west entrance to the York Minster, blissfully oblivious of the ongoing events.
After missing the grand event of the Queen’s first appearance at the Minster by approximately three minutes, I decide to join the hundreds of people engaged in waiting for another appearance after the traditional royal Maundy service. We wait a long time. One black-fronted security guard blocks the entrance to the Minster Gardens while police make undecipherable comments into walkie-talkies. It is only just after 11:00 and already people are questioning the punctuality of our monarch. The air buzzes with murmurs of all nationalities as tourists flock between slightly disgruntled York residents, joined by the noise of excitable and exhausted children. One girl in a union flag t-shirt perched on the shoulders of her father entertains herself by counting the minster doors; others are less resourceful.
It is 11:30. The sky is dotted with picture book-friendly clouds, and the turrets of the Minster so often overlooked by its residents are lit up by the mid-morning sun, leading to the emergence of yet more obscenely large cameras perfect for blocking the vision of those behind them. The mood is positive, however, as people discuss the most mundane and oddly fascinating aspects of the Queen’s daily routine. Never before have so many people cared about the lunching preferences of an 86-year-old woman, and lively debates as to whether she was wearing lilac or red gain momentum among the women as time progresses. The men counter this chatter with discussions about blocked up bins and bomb scares with fascinated little boys. The prospect of plain-clothed policemen hiding guns “in case someone tries to shoot the Queen” – in the stage-whispered words of one father – is a particularly fascinating one.
It is 11:45. Not since the new year have the streets been so full of people and anticipation. Some have come from the Park & Ride, others are peering out of windows clutching banners, desperate for a glimpse of events. A BBC news reporter is viewed with suspicion and excitement, as if she knows what time the Queen will appear but is not telling us. Phantom bursts of noise explode as people crane their necks to see if anything has changed. It hasn’t, but a red balloon soars into the sky instead.
Finally, lip-reading a policeman tells us she will arrive at 12:00. The message is spread. “God Save the Queen” is played by the Minster’s bells, children are hoisted uncomfortably onto backs, and camera-phones perch, ready to take shaky footage. This is no gig: there will be no shoving or sneaking to the front, only a challenge of height. Many children are standing on statues or shoulders, towering high above the rest of us. There is a press corner facing the west door, and old and young stand on the front row with tulips to present to the royals.
It is 12:15 and the people next to me are beginning to lose patience, saying, “I can’t wait this long.” Things are too much for the little blonde girl, who crumples up her face and begins to fuss. Her father gives her a sandwich with the corners cut off. She is happy again. Suddenly, there is movement in the Minster. Tensions grow, as a figure appears. Another figure follows, and another; they move slowly and with purpose in royal hats and uniforms. The people behind me ask if the Queen is out yet – I tell them to wait for the cheers, which soon follow. At around 12:30, to the sound of Bach, a small woman in neither lilac nor mauve makes her appearance. Flags are waved, cheers are heard and, as she makes her way around the barrier with the Archbishop, people desperately try to catch a glimpse of her. She stays for a few minutes, long enough to greet some girls, and then disappears into her car. She is taken through the Minster Gardens, and vanishes from view.
Beefeaters line up in formation, red uniforms gleaming, seeming stiff and intimidating at the same time, perhaps on account of their vicious looking weapons. They march away in formation. For the people of York, a small cheery face in a blue hat next to a golden clad Archbishop will be a talking point for a long time. An hour-and-a-half wait was most definitely worth it.