It’s almost Her Majesty’s birthday again, thus also Trooping the Colour, and here is my guide* to watching the day’s events in front of Buckingham Palace, with thanks to the lady who stood beside me – my “neighbour” – when I went in 2016 for her 90th official birthday. It was my first time spectating, and I had a good enough time that the Queen, touch wood, should see me for her 100th birthday!
*This guide is for those who want to spectate for free. If you want to watch Trooping the Colour inside the Horse Guards Parade, you’ll need to ballot and pay for a ticket. For more information see http://www.householddivision.org.uk/trooping-the-colour.
What is the Colour?
The military standard of each regiment. In the past, soldiers trooped the Colour in order to familiarise themselves with the colour of the side that they were fighting on, so as not to get confused in the heat of battle.
Why do I say Her Majesty’s birthday instead of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday?
This is the official birthday of the incumbent monarch, not Queen Elizabeth’s actual birthday, which is on 21st April. The date of the official birthday changes from year to year but is always in the first half of June.
What time should you get there?
If you want a spot without anyone standing in front of you, get there at 9am if you are going alone, and at 8am if you are in a group.
Where should I stand?
On the Green Park side of Buckingham Palace, not the Buckingham Palace Road side, because the Queen’s carriage goes round that side of the fountain. It may also be easier to escape the crush when everyone wants to leave and heads towards the gates, as you might be able to find space to wait inside the park while the crowd disperses. On the Buckingham Palace Road side, it takes at least half an hour to get back onto the streets.
This advice is based on my experience. If you want to be more certain of the Queen’s route, you should come for the rehearsals, which take place 2 weeks before the event.
What should I bring?
- Comfortable shoes. The lady beside me brought flip-flops.
- Fold-up chair. Two ladies near me relaxed for their 5 hours in chairs, eating Kipling cakes. I was so jealous.
- Food and water. When I went, it was on a last-minute whim. I had left the flat at around 8am with an apple and a bottle of water. I was very thankful for the M&M the girl standing behind me in the crowd offered me.
- Union Jack flags. My neighbour came with three, gold topped ones from the Jubilee.
Pre-10am Her Majesty arrives in residence, probably from Windsor. You’ll know because they’ll take down the Union Jack flag and put up the royal flag, which is a lot bigger. Foreign dignitaries are driven past on their way up to Horse Guards Parade.
10am Troops march up to Horse Guards Parade via Buckingham Palace. Most are marching bands. They are followed eventually by the royals in their carriages and on their horses. The carriage carrying Prince Harry and Kate Middleton goes first, followed a while later by the Queen’s carriage, where Prince Philip in a busby sits beside her. Princes Charles and William ride behind her carriage. When she was younger, the Queen rode side-saddle instead of in a carriage. She was even shot at once, with blanks that missed her, in 1981.
11am Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade.
12 noon Royals arrive back at Buckingham Palace. 21 gun salute once Her Majesty is inside. The royals come out onto the balcony for a bit, then go back inside.
1pm Flypast ending with the Red Arrows, while the royals watch from the balcony. Kate Middleton was holding Princess Charlotte in her arms, while Prince George stood next to her.
What were the highlights for me?
- Chatting to my lovely neighbour and asking her all I wanted to know about the Queen’s birthday and the British monarchy. Otherwise it would have been a lonely and boring 2 hours.
- Spotting the Queen straight away as she was the brightest thing around, dressed in neon green. Seeing Prince William and Prince Charles riding behind her.
- Prince Harry waving at us from the carriage he shares with Kate Middleton. I’d like to think that he was smiling in my direction, but it was most likely at the camera of the AFP reporter standing 4 places from me.
- Being interviewed for the TV for the first time, by the same AFP reporter.
- Seeing Clare Balding, the BBC Sports presenter.
- The carriages, which were surprisingly plain. The glamorous ones I was expecting are to be found in the Royal Mews, which you can visit on Buckingham Palace Road.
Being wished a good day from a policeman I had stopped to ask for advice.
Seeing another policeman pose for the cameras to amuse the waiting crowd.
Are women present among the troops?
Yes. You can tell them apart, with some difficult if they are wearing busby hats, by their hair buns.
Why are the policemen wearing medals and white gloves?
The medals are given to the police at every Jubilee. The most recent one (the silver Jubilee medal) is closest to the left shoulder. The white gloves are worn on special formal occasions like the Queen’s birthday.
Is there a better place to stand than in front of Buckingham Palace?
Yes, on the Mall at the end closest to the Horse Guards Parade. There you will be able to hear what is going on inside the ticketed area, get given a free programme, as well as see the royals go by twice. Oh, and the railings will be removed to let you walk down the Mall to watch the flypast in front of Buckingham Palace. Those standing in front of Buckingham Palace to begin with will not be allowed to wander freely up to the palace gates. To get a spot you will have to arrive at 7am.
Who exactly was my “neighbour”?
She is someone who has come to London to spectate for around 20 years, coming once every 5 years or thereabouts. She was once a teacher, and she is also a member of the Girl Guides. Through this organisation, she has met the Countess of Wessex, the President of the Girl Guides. The Queen herself is the patron of the Girl Guides, and served in the 1st Buckingham Palace Unit.