I was all prepared to spend days in front of the TV watching the jubilee events. This is where I want to see it, I told my husband. Imagine being in all those crowds?
When Ted Flett from Visit Britain called with an invitation to cover the Jubilee I immediately said no.
I hate crowds, and line-ups just as I’ll bet a lot of your clients are saying no to Great Britain this year.
I was wrong, and so are they.
I’m so glad I went, yes you saw it all on TV, but nothing could match the enthusiasm of 1.2 million people all out in terrible weather to thank the Queen for her 60 years of dedication.
I got off the plane in Heathrow, geared up for long delays. Well, it maybe happened several months ago, but not this month. Immigration and baggage pick up were quick and trouble free. In no time, I was through, and ready for the drive to St. Ermin’s Hotel, which is just two blocks from Buckingham Palace.
Security in London was everywhere, but it was smiling and very friendly.
I was just there a couple of days, before leaving on an Insight Coach Tour of England, Scotland and Wales. It was a great tour, and it gave us an idea of how the Island was getting ready to celebrate. Of course there were flags, and also lots of bunting. There were going to be closed streets, for the planned picnics. Great Britain was a sea of red, white, and blue, not only on people, but also in store windows.
Was the traffic back into London going to be gridlocked?
The day before the flotilla on the Thames, all the traffic was heading the other way to the coast. We were actually back at the hotel early.
Sunday morning we put on every bit of clothes we’d brought, grabbed our raincoats and headed off the Piccadilly Circus. There was a picnic happening, you could bring your own, and beverage of choice, or buy it from one of the very upscale food booths. People ordered burgers from the Fortnum and Masons booth - just because.
The table decorated with flags was two blocks long. There was an antique merry-go-round, live entertainment, a playground for the kids and very friendly Bobbies, who happily posed for pictures.
The house band from the Ritz performed, starting with “ Singing in the Rain.”
We headed towards the “tube” to find a spot to see the flotilla, so missed Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall who arrived a bit later to picnic with the crowds. Of course they didn’t have to find a spot they had one on the Spirit of Chartwell.
The tube must have had every employee on duty, and all had been to charm school, were ready to help with directions, AND warn people that some stations might have to be closed briefly because of the sheer volume of people. It didn’t seem much busier than Union Station at rush hour, and the crowds were much more polite. There was no pushing and shoving.
We arrived at Battersea Park just an hour and a half before it started, and couldn’t believe our luck when we found a spot directly in front of the railing. Nor could we believe the people arriving … arriving with babies, kids, the dog, and a picnic, dressed in flag clothing, many wearing Royal masks. Some had been camping all night for a good spot.
We got to know people in no time at all. Battersea Park is where the Queen came to play as a child. Queen Victoria opened this park in 1858, and Prince Philip reopened it in 2004. Just before his wedding Prince William played football here with his mates. 90,000 people celebrated the Jubilee in this park.
And so it began, a 1000 boats sailing, rowing, paddling, steaming, or motoring. When the Spirit of Chartwell came into view, people started to sing “God Save the Queen”. Some cried, others roared. It was really chilly, and it poured, and no one cared.
Leaving six hours later was quite an experience; busy busy streets, every pub and restaurant was jammed or closed. Some subway stations were closed till they moved the crowds, but it was all orderly. There was no charge on the return trip. Again there were amazing numbers of police and transit staff.
The concert the next night was just two blocks from our hotel, it could have been miles away, we heard nothing, so we decided to go see. We arrived to find many police and a big sign that said “Sorry we’re full!” 500,000 people, and they were letting no one else into the area no matter what the excuse, and I overheard some good ones. People joined up and walked to the next gate to see if they would have better luck. No luck, so some decided to find a pub and watch it on TV with their new friends.
Just two short blocks away and we too were watching it on TV. The only noise we could hear and see were the fireworks.
Was I claustrophobic at any time? No, I enjoyed the celebrations with everyone else.
So, based on my experience – don't be afraid of crowds and congestion – I recommend the Olympics without hesitation.