It was beautiful and a bit strange this morning, sitting in St Paul’s Cathedral with the rest of the congregation, waiting for the Queen to make her entrance for the national thanksgiving service. We were hushed and awed — I was up in the press gallery — under the great dome of the stupendous cathedral. This was a religious occasion, yet there was no escaping the fact that it was also a high society event, everyone in their finest feathers. A reporter next to me whispered to her colleague the details of the outfit Her Majesty would be wearing (something ‘mint green, Swarovski-studded’) and the designer brands of the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress and hat. We in the press pack were not, as a whole, aligning ourselves to the things of the spirit.
Waves and waves of roaring came from outside. The Queen, we imagined, was passing the crowds, who were cheering her from the bottom of their hearts. Could it be, perhaps, that the real communion was happening out there, between the monarch and her subjects? As Toby Young said in his Spectator piece this week, it’s ordinary people – perhaps not so ordinary after all – who appreciate most what the Queen symbolizes. Servicemen and women, local councillors, charity workers, teachers, nurses – they’d be the first people to recognize devotion when they see it. And devotion is what Her Majesty embodies, having served faithfully for 60 years. The Archbishop of Canterbury praised her in his sermon as having a ‘dedication that has endured faithfully, calmly and generously through most of the adult lives of most of us here’. I was struck by the difference in the register of his language —sincere but slightly bureaucratic – to the luminous register of the older hymns and prayers. Have we, throughout the years, lost our belief in beauty, a sense of highness? Somewhere in the proceedings, David Cameron read verses from the New Testament, from the book of Romans. The children’s Diamond Choir sang a lovely anthem which deemed that ‘silver is of passing worth, gold is not of constant value’.
Then for the final song of all, God Save the Queen. The verses swelled. I realised that in that line sung by people so often around the world, the Queen, for once, is presented as a subject — of God. Under the vast dome, it was obvious it’s a prayer. I am not a Briton – I’m a Malaysian who’s made her home in Singapore for over 20 years – so I’ve not heard the song quite as many times. It struck me that Britain’s national tune is not only an anthem, but a hymn.Tags: Diamond Jubilee, Royals, St paul's cathedral, Thanksgiving