For the Platinum Jubilee, a Patriotic Pudding

For Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, in 1953, lampposts along the processional route were painted lilac, pale blue, and white, at the instigation of Sir Hugh Casson, an architect who made his mark with the Festival of Britain, in 1951. The result was so “lively and apt,” this magazine’s correspondent Mollie Panter-Downes noted at the time, “that they will surely shock to death those diehard Britons who think you can’t go wrong with a nice lot of red, white and blue, and a sprinkling of ‘Long May She Reign’s.” A stroll in the center of London a day in advance of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations revealed that today’s designers had reverted to tried and true. Along Regent Street, more than a hundred enormous Union Jacks, strung five abreast, fluttered above the streams of buses and pedestrians like a proud if leaky canopy of patriotism.

Seventy years! Who could have imagined just how long Elizabeth II might reign? Only two years more, and she’ll best Louis XIV’s record as the world’s longest-serving monarch—and he was four years old when he became king, so, cheating. After two years of cancelled events and gatherings banned, it was a relief not to have to countenance a Zoombilee. And to what efforts had commercial establishments gone to mark this bright moment amid late-pandemic hardship and a cost-of-living crisis exacerbated by a European war on a scale not seen since just before Her Majesty came to the throne? On Regent Street: hats off to the window dresser for Guess, who had accessorized the store’s haughty mannequins with a pair of fake corgis. At Piccadilly Circus, the shimmering L.E.D. screen displayed a message from the retailers John Lewis and Waitrose: “Congratulations Your Majesty.” That ad alternated with another, for Estrella Damm beer—maybe a fitting inducement for the British public, who had been granted an extra day off and who never seem to need encouragement to raise a glass, can, or bottle.

Down on the Mall, the avenue that leads from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, some of the Queen’s subjects had already pitched tents at prime, barricade-side spots for the procession. Rachael Axford, an office worker for a renewable-energy company in Cornwall, had taken the sleeper train from Penzance—though there had been no sleeping, she said, what with all the excitement, and the gin. She had decked her spot with regional bunting, a white cross on a black background, and her yellow-and-blue beach tent—a nod of solidarity to Ukraine—was supplied with folding chairs, sleeping bags, some Union Jack-patterned clothes, and gin. Also: a Shewee urination funnel, for emergencies. “I don’t think any other country can touch us for the pageantry,” Axford said. She had camped at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, in Windsor, in 2018, and already had a game plan for the next big one, the Queen’s funeral.

For less prepared Jubilee-ers, serried ranks of portable toilets lined the Mall’s sidewalk, in the shadow of the grand mansions of St. James’s. Schoolchildren in the crowd debated the important stuff. “The Queen is technically not rich—she just has a lot of expensive things,” one middle-school-age boy informed a girl. “The house is priceless,” she confirmed. A young man in an ill-fitting black suit with a framed portrait of the Queen circa 1997 jammed under his arm scurried across the street, cell phone to ear. To the clicking of cameras, two Guardsmen in their red tunics and bearskin helmets marched toward the palace, stepping aside to allow an ambulance to pass. A Household Cavalry soldier had been thrown from his horse, it was reported later: one of the Jubilee’s first injuries, but surely not the last. The supplies of gin and Estrella had barely been broached.

And so, on to Piccadilly, where, at a café within Fortnum & Mason, those in the know could order, off menu, a serving of Platinum Pudding: a dessert created by an amateur baker named Jemma Melvin, who won a nationwide competition to design a comestible fit for street-party tables up and down the land. Concocted from layers of Swiss roll, lemon curd, citrus jelly, mandarin oranges, custard, amaretti cookies, and shards of “jeweled chocolate bark”—phew—the dessert looked like “summer in a glass,” remarked Annalivia Foreman, who was at the café with her daughter Eve. Neither could actually sample the pudding (Eve: nut allergies; Annalivia: gut-reset program), but Annalivia’s brother Hugh was game. He wrinkled his nose as he described the flavor as “light,” and was skeptical of its colors, which were as subtle as Casson’s painted lampposts. “I served my country, and there’s nothing patriotic about that,” Hugh—a onetime captain in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards—declared. After the family left, however, the pudding glass was scraped clean by a less critical subject, who washed it down with a cup of Platinum Jubilee–Blend Tea. It had been a long morning, and a very, very long reign. ♦

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