LONDON — As a nine-year-old girl, Princess Elizabeth and her family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to mark the silver jubilee of her grandfather, King George V, with an excited smile on her face as she looked at the crowd below.
For the better part of a century later, the former princess – Queen Elizabeth II, 96 – is expected to smile and wave to millions from the same balcony this week as she celebrates her 70th anniversary on the throne.
The balcony façade is at the heart of almost all royal celebrations in the UK, and the public has a chance to catch a glimpse of the lavish pictures of families coming together for weddings, coronations and jubilee celebrations. Every June, the extended royal family dons their best uniforms, hats and dresses and gathers to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in a lavish military parade known as the Trooping the Colour and after the Royal Air Force has flown by. ends on the balcony.
Balcony images over the decades document the changing face of the monarchy and provide snapshots of many milestones in Elizabeth’s life. In 1945, the princess wore a military uniform as she celebrated the end of World War II alongside Winston Churchill.
Eight years later, after her own coronation, she donned the imperial crown and imperial robes to greet a sea of ecstatic subjects.
This Thursday, the home’s Platinum Jubilee balcony look will catch the attention of those who will be absent. Royal officials announced earlier this month that “after much deliberation” the Queen had decided that only working royals and their children would be allowed to gather on the balcony.
That means Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, who resigned from royal frontline duties and moved to California in 2020, will be excluded, along with their young children. So did Prince Andrew, who was disgraced by a sex scandal and his links to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
“I think the decision to have only current working members of the royal family sit on the balcony was a very smart decision as it avoided any embarrassing situations,” said Emily Nash, royal editor at HELLO Magazine.
“People are looking at the family dynamics to see if there are tensions and I think if we see Prince Andrew on the balcony there will be a huge outcry. So it solves all those issues in one go,” Nash added. “But the Palace has made it clear throughout that Harry and Meghan remain beloved members of the family and they will be here.”
Harry and Meghan, known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, said they were flying to the UK with their two young children and they were looking forward to the long weekend of celebrations. The trip will be the family’s first visit to Harry’s home country, and any appearances at Jubilee events – including services at St Paul’s Cathedral and a possible second balcony party on Sunday – will be closely watched focus on.
Meanwhile, Andrew, who recently reached a multi-million pound settlement with a woman who filed a lawsuit in the US alleging he sexually assaulted him at the age of 17, will be out of the public eye. Amid the scandal, the Queen’s second son was stripped of his honorary military title in January.
Some royal watchers said Thursday’s limited balcony line-up was also in line with Prince Charles’ long-held desire to streamline the monarchy.
The decision means the Queen will join her heir Charles, 73, and his wife Camilla on the balcony on Thursday. Prince William, second in line to the throne, with his wife Kate and their three children; Charles’ siblings Princess Anne and Prince Edward, and their spouses.
Several other lesser-known serving royals will join the group, including the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester and his wife, as well as the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra.
While some past balcony parties have included large groups of royals – including the Queen’s distant cousins - at the 2012 Diamond Jubilee, the Queen was accompanied by only five close family members: Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry.
“It’s making a point, it’s saying — this is the future, folks,” said Robert Hardman, the monarch’s biographer and author of “The Queen of Our Time: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II.”
This week, “this is not a situation where Andrew, Harry or Meghan are banned from balconies,” Hardman added. “They’ve stepped back from royal duties, so they’re not part of the combat unit. That’s all about it.”
The tradition of balcony looks began with Queen Victoria, who in the 19th century turned Buckingham Palace into the monarch’s official residence and royal residence. Victoria was first seen on the Royal Balcony during the celebrations marking the opening of the Universal Exposition in 1851.
Ed Owens, royal historian and author of The Family Business: The Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953, said it was a symbolic moment for the royal family and people to come together.
“It was popularized at a moment when the country was starting to look up to the royal family,” Owens said.
It’s a formal occasion, although naughty royal kids often steal the spotlight. Still in the arms of his mother Diana, 3-year-old Harry impressed when he stuck his tongue out to the photographer.
Royal observers are hopeful that the Queen, now with mobility issues and having recently missed several major public events, will be able to attend Thursday’s balcony moment and at least one or two events planned for the four-day Platinum Jubilee Weekend. But there are no promises.
“We can’t take anything for granted at this point — at 96, you have good days and bad days,” said Joe Little, executive editor of Majesty Magazine. “The palace is taking it every day.”
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