After visiting Buckingham Palace for the first time in six months, the 95-year-old monarch took part in the State Opening of Parliament in a ceremony scaled back dramatically because of the pandemic. It was the 67th time she had performed the ceremonial duty and although it still had pomp and colour, the Queen cut a solitary figure – giving her speech from a throne that would normally have had her consort next to it. Philip who died aged 99 on April 9, had not accompanied her to the ceremony for five years – Prince Charles has sat beside the monarch on his father’s throne instead.
Yesterday however, instead of a pair of thrones, the Prince of Wales sat a few feet away from his mother with his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Royal sources say Charles, 72, is likely to return to his mother’s side next time, assuming the pandemic is over.
The consort’s throne is normally kept at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, under the care of the Lord Great Chamberlain, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, unless it is needed at the State Opening.
It remained in Norfolk yesterday to avoid unnecessary journeys at this time. The Queen was the only person in the Palace of Westminster not wearing a mask as she set out her Government’s legislative programme. Buckingham Palace said she had followed advice from Public Health England.
She also consulted her medical household in deciding not to wear a face covering throughout the ceremony, in which she spoke for eight minutes and 52 seconds. Her Majesty stopped wearing the Imperial State Crown five years ago, as at her age it is now too heavy.
The 2lb 3oz crown, commissioned for her father George VI’s coronation in 1937, boasts nearly 3,000 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and around 270 pearls as well as a large diamond, ruby and sapphire adorning the back and front. In a BBC documentary in 2018, the Queen described it as “unwieldy”, saying: “You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up, because if you did your neck would break – it would fall off.”
Yesterday the crown was placed on a red and gold velvet cushion and instead of her state robes, the monarch wore an Angela Kelly outfit and hat, a grey jacquard coat with lemon flowers and a grey and yellow silk dress and matching hat.
Her jewellery was a pair of art deco-style Boucheron aquamarine and diamond clip brooches, given to her by her father for her 18th birthday, and she carried her trusty Launier handbag.
Charles, who wore a morning suit and black mask edged in white, gently held his mother’s raised white gloved hand as they processed slowly through the almost empty Royal Gallery in Parliament, followed by Camilla.
The prince kept hold of the monarch as she walked towards her throne in the House of Lords, making her way carefully up the low steps. Moving back, he then took his seat in a chair of state at a Covid-secure distance alongside Camilla, who was wearing a Bruce Oldfield silver grey and cream coat and dress with matching face mask and a Philip Treacy hat. They sat in an eerily empty Lords, where only a small number of socially-distanced peers were allowed instead of the usual 600 who would attend the ceremony. All 108 people attending were required to take a Covid test.
To reduce the risks to the twice-vaccinated Queen, the cream booklet containing the speech had been placed on a table beside her throne instead of being handed to her
by the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland.
There was no grand carriage procession to and from Parliament for the Queen either. She travelled in a convoy of cars from Buckingham Palace.
She last visited twice on Remembrance Sunday, before going to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and the Cenotaph.
But she did not linger long yesterday. By the early afternoon she was back at Windsor Castle, where she has spent most of lockdown since March last year.
Officially, the Royal Household insists she will return to living at the palace for half the week when the pandemic is over. But privately, many say she will base herself at Windsor from now on, coming into London to work but returning most evenings.
Nevertheless, the sight of her at Westminster yesterday cheered royal watchers.
Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: “It’s a step nearer to normality as far as her public life is concerned.”