THE Union Flags are about to be unfurled, the bunting hung and the long tables set. Excitement is building steadily ahead of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee knees-up as citizens across the Capital prepare to celebrate her six decades of service to the nation.
From DJ-powered street parties with pop-up cocktail bars to private affairs in secluded cul-de-sacs, city residents are gearing up to show their affection and respect. Or at least, some are. “She behaves with dignity and she does the job so well,” says Sheila Watt, organiser of a Jubilee Big Lunch for her neighbours in Murrayfield. “I think the 60 years of leadership we’ve had under her are reason enough to celebrate.”
But do most of her fellow citizens in the Capital and the rest of Scotland feel the same? Statistics suggest patriotic feeling among those north of the border is decidedly cooler than elsewhere in the UK.
The city council has so far received 34 applications for public street parties in Edinburgh, of which 20 have been approved. The number is up on last year’s royal wedding, when the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was celebrated by 16 events, and means that around a third of all applications in Scotland will come from the Capital.
Yet the showing pales when compared with the number of planned events in the rest of Britain.
Bristol alone, with a smaller population than Edinburgh’s, will hold 92 parties and around 6500 streets across England and Wales will be closed for public celebrations.
Is the Jubilee evidence of a deep-seated apathy and indifference in Scots towards all things royal? Those locals who are determined to put on a show think the reality is more complex.
“I think the Scots do like to think that they are on their own. Maybe it’s because the royal family is down there and we are up here,” says Mel Cranston, manager at the Melville Lounge in the New Town, who is planning an event in William Street that will feature an outdoor cocktail bar, magic shows and soul singers. She believes the lack of enthusiasm among her fellow Scots for public celebration has been shaped by more than just an instinctive sense of difference and detachment.
“I don’t think the Jubilee is promoted enough in Scotland and neither is the royal family,” she says. ”There’s certainly not as much promotion as there is down south.
“I am all for the Jubilee as well, although I am not a massive royalist. I know that people in Edinburgh and Scotland do not participate in celebrations like this as much as people in England do.”
That argument is supported by history. Modern street parties in England and Wales took place as early as 1919 when “peace teas” were held to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War. They were parties that provided a special treat to children in times of hardship.
Even before then, more formal, public “dinners” were held to mark major occasions, such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
The celebrations that greeted Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2, 1953, are particularly famous. Thousands flooded the streets and cried “God save the Queen!” as they watched the event broadcast on national television for the first time.
The public dinners that took place even gave birth to Coronation chicken – a new national dish that continues to be popular to this day.
But the tradition did not develop as strongly in Scotland and public celebrations north of the border have always been fewer and more muted.
“In terms of cultural celebrations, street parties certainly aren’t as common in Scotland and people aren’t as used to the idea,” says Donald Wilson, Edinburgh’s new Lord Provost, ahead of the city council’s own afternoon tea party on West Parliament Square on June 3.
The event will see 100 guests, including pupils from Royal Mile Primary School, residents of the Whitefoord House home for Scottish Veterans on the Canongate and local business representatives, enjoy a traditional British cream tea.
“On this particular occasion, the applications are definitely coming in for the street parties,” says the Provost, “and I think there will be quite a buzz in the city during the Jubilee week.
“In harsh economic terms, it’s great to have something to celebrate and, in this difficult climate, it’s great to have something to lift public spirits.
“As Scotland’s capital city, we should be marking the event in a high-profile way and in a way that people can participate in.”
For street party organiser Sheila Watt, whose event in Murrayfield will be a more private affair for immediate neighbours, the fact there have been fewer street party applications north of the border illuminates the more cautious, conservative character of the Scots.
“We are having a more traditional event, just a quiet afternoon of meeting our neighbours,” she says. “I was quite surprised they did not want to do anything bigger – they wanted to keep it private.
“They only really want people in the cul-de-sac there. I wanted to put a poster up and have a couple of hundred people but I was happy to go with the majority in the end.
“I think people in Scotland are anxious about getting involved and worried about what it’s going to cost and who’s going to come. I think people in England are more outgoing and laid back full-stop, really.”
But though Capital residents may not be as keen on flamboyant public celebration as counterparts in England and Wales, Shelia believes levels of enthusiasm for the Queen and the Jubilee are just as high.
“Once you start thinking about having public events, it’s a financial commitment and it needs more organisation,” says Sheila. “But I know of a number of events happening in people’s houses with fancy-dress lunches and dinners and so on.
“That’s all happening but nobody is going to know about it – it could be happening in a thousand homes in Edinburgh but it’s not going to be picked up in the figures.”
Linda Hutchon, who is organising a larger event in Murrayfield Avenue with live music and barbecues for at least 200 people, agrees.
“People are also saying they will get together with some friends and there are so many places where people are going to do their own thing,” she says.
“I would say everyone I know has been really excited about it, just like last year when we did the royal wedding.
“The dress code was red, white and blue for that and people thought it was really nice – some even came out in wedding dresses.
“For the Jubilee, we’ll have the same red, white and blue theme but we’re also asking people to wear tiaras. Everyone seems genuinely to be looking forward to the event. .”
Of course, there may well be another factor that could explain the relatively low number of street parties planned in Edinburgh and Scotland. “Why are there fewer applications up here? I honestly think it’s to do with the weather!” laughs Sheila. I think it’s that rather than a lack of enthusiasm that’s behind the figures.”
Girl guides fired up for big day
THE Queen’s reign began before they were born but that has not stopped Edinburgh’s Girl Guides from planning their own Diamond Jubilee celebration.
More than 1000 Brownies, Guides and leaders will mark the occasion by gathering to light a Jubilee Beacon at the Trefoil Campsite at Gogar Bank on June 4.
The girls will enjoy a giant campfire before lighting the Beacon – one of a network of more than 4000 at locations across the UK – at 10.10pm. The Queen will then light the National Beacon at 10.30pm. Anne Mack, county commissioner for Girlguiding Edinburgh, said: “The girls are really starting to get excited about what will happen on June 4 and 5.
“Service is part of the Guides’ promise and one group of girls was saying to me that this was a chance to pick apart the promise – to look at it and understand why we say that we will do our best to love God and serve our Queen.
“Some girls are even making fascinators to wear on the day. We all look forward to a spectacular evening.”
The city council has received 34 applications for street parties to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Edinburgh, with 20 already approved at the following locations:
Monday, May 28:
• Torphin Road
Saturday, June 2:
• Melville Lounge, William Street
• Leamington Terrace
• Dalhousie Terrace
• Lussielaw Road
• Coillesdene Grove
• Eildon Street
• Lily Hill Terrace
Sunday, June 3:
• Ann Street
• Blacket Association, Alfred Place
• Lennox Street
• Murrayfield Avenue
• Mansionhouse Road
Monday, June 4:
• Murrayfield Drive
Tuesday, June 5:
• Spylaw Park and Pentland Road (junction)
• Silverknowes Southway
• Thirleston Road
• Ravelston House Grove
• Hartington Gardens