British Ambassador to Holy See on Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
This first week of June marks the official celebration in the UK and across the Commonwealth of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Only the second British monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne, the Queen and her family lead a river pageant down the Thames on Sunday, host a concert at Buckingham Palace on Monday and attend a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday. In towns and villages across Britain and beyond, there will be street parties, the lighting of beacons and other events to mark this significant moment in the nation’s history.
Philippa Hitchen spoke to Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker about these events and about the Queen’s role as a symbol of unity for people of all faiths and none…
“When you look back in history there were moments when the Catholic community was discriminated against and the hierarchy of bishops was only reinstated in the 19th century, but we’ve moved a long way from that and, as the Queen is the first to point out, she’s the monarch, not just of Anglican subjects but of Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist subjects ….
The focus is going to be 2nd to 5th of June and the central moment of the celebration is going to be a pageant along the river Thames, something we haven’t seen, I’m told, for around 350 years! There’ll be well over 1000 different craft on the Thames following the Queen’s barge. The Thames of course is redolent of British history and royal history, from Greenwich, Whitehall, Westminster, the river encapsulates British history….”
Asked about criticism of the costs of the Jubilee, the ambassador replied: “It’s always a fair point to ask about how tax payer’s money is spent. The Queen has been very clear saying we must not be excessive, but it’s important to mark symbolic moments in our history – only Queen Victoria has celebrated 60 years on the throne. I think the British people have a fairly clear sense of proportion and the Queen herself embodies that.”
Exploring the comparison between the monarch and Queen Victoria, Nigel Baker said: “Both reigns have seen extraordinary changes in Britain and in the world. Victoria came to the throne relatively shortly after the Napoleonic wars and died at the beginning of the 20th century, a country that was transformed by the industrial revolution, in a sense the first great wave of globalisation. Queen Elizabeth came to the throne when the British Empire was largely intact. She was queen of 7 countries when she came to the throne, but she’s queen now of 15 countries because of the independence process of countries who’ve kept the queen as head of state. So Britain has changed enormously, as has the world and that’s a point of fair comparison. The other is that sense of duty and service that both have brought to their role – neither have positions of power, but they have a great sense of the stability that the monarchy can bring to a democratic system.
Asked about another visit by the Queen to the Vatican, Ambassador Baker said: “There’s nothing immediately in the pipe line – but it would be wonderful for her to travel here again. Of course, she met the Pope in Britain in 2010 and she’s not getting any younger so has to be quite careful – as does the pope since they both happen to be almost the same age – about her travel commitments, but I’d be delighted to see her visiting Rome and making another foray to the Holy See…”