The first day of autumn in the UK is a strange one this year. The sun is shining brightly, the thermometer is high, there are more people in the streets than in weeks. Yet behind the feel of summer is the growing awareness that as the days shorten and the weather changes, life across the country will be impacted by new pandemic restrictions which could last six months. It’s made Summer 2021 even more of a shining beacon in the distance. And it’s raised the question of whether a royal milestone could turn into the excuse for a national party everyone is looking for right now.
On June 10th 2021, Prince Philip turns 100. He will be the first male member of the Royal Family to make that grand age and, as well as a telegram from his wife, in ordinary times he could expect a lot of flag waving and street partying, whether he liked it or not. In these strange times, it is unclear whether any of that will be possible. But could the timing of this royal birthday prove to be the excuse for the celebrations that everyone right now is dreaming of?
For we have all uttered that strange phrase ‘’when all this is over’’ at least once this year. Since March, we have all promised to have a massive party/ throw the barbecue to end all barbies/ get so drunk we don’t know our own names etc at least once as we look ahead to something better. It is part of human nature. When things get rough, you scan the horizon for a bright spot and start walking towards it. For most of this year, we have all experienced challenges that none of us could have imagined a few short months ago. We have all looked for the sun behind the clouds and promised to party when it arrives. And maybe this royal birthday will give everyone the lift they need.
The timing could be perfect. Fifteen months after the first terrible shock of this terrible virus, we would all hope that things have changed enough for us to come together, even if it is in the socially distanced way that so many practised on the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May 2020. By June 2021, we will have all experienced over a year of radical changes that landed on us with such suddenness that it took weeks to realise they were even happening. By then, we will be used to the ups and downs and hoping for more smiles. Celebrating the centenary of a royal stalwart could be just the right moment.
The man himself, I suspect, would have none of it. Prince Philip’s down to earth nature, bluff ways and sometimes controversial reactions to those who engage with him would indicate a man more at home with a good walk across the fields and a couple of whiskies as a birthday celebration. I can’t imagine he’s ever dreamed of being the star of a street party or watching the crowds gather outside Buckingham Palace for him rather than his wife.
However, he is a trooper, in more ways than one. The prince who gave up his title to marry an heir and who has walked a step behind while carving a meaningful role that has impacted thousands of lives for the better knows the delicate deal that being a royal involves. It is a life of privilege and opportunity but it also creates an air of puppetry. You dance on a string at times and the expectation that you will smile and wave, wave and smile remains constant. But Philip also knows the huge benefits that a strong constitutional monarchy can bring to the country he has made his home. If that means seeing your face on a birthday tea towel and being the focal point of a national celebration, he’ll be there, still smiling and still waving.
As for those of us making the slightly too strong squash and almost set jellies that make up every street party everywhere, we will be ready to let our hair down and hoping that by next June we have moved on enough in this strange time for that to be a possibility. Philip’s big day might be just the fillip we need. On this first strange day of Autumn 2020, here’s looking at Summer 2021 and hoping.