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When she comes to look back on the numerous events great and small in honour of the first Platinum Jubilee in British history, it’s a safe bet that last night’s emotional spectacular in her own back garden will be near the top of the Queen’s list of happy memories.
She braved the night air for her first nocturnal engagement of the year (an outdoor one, too).
And, well past 10.30pm, she was very clearly continuing to enjoy herself enormously – receiving a thumping three cheers before heading home.
Queen Elizabeth II during the ‘A Gallop Through History’ performance as part of the official celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee yesterday
Queen Elizabeth II arrives for the A Gallop Through History Platinum Jubilee celebration at the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Windsor Castle
For here in Windsor Castle’s Home Park, she was treated to a fast and frantic two-hour festival of three of her favourite things: Family, Armed Forces and horses (more than 600 of them).
Billed as a ‘Gallop Through History’, this boisterous tableau – with a 1,300-strong cast, including several Hollywood A-listers – placed the emphasis firmly on the gallop rather than the history.
With light-hearted nods to the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, Nelson and the Commonwealth (but not a squeak about the British Empire), this was primarily about four-legged fun and the Queen’s unrivalled equestrian credentials.
At the end, however, there were two very poignant moments: The arrival of the Queen’s own horses, led by Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor, her 18-year-old granddaughter, at the helm of the late Duke of Edinburgh’s beloved driving carriage and drawn by two of his favourite ponies.
At times, they weren’t sure which way to look – over at Hollywood stars Damian Lewis and Tom Cruise (right) narrating on one side of the arena or over at the Royal Box on the other
The Queen had attended the thrilling event alongside her son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
The other was the appearance of the Queen’s Hollywood alter ego, Dame Helen Mirren – dressed as the monarch’s Tudor forebear.
Having won an Oscar for her role as Elizabeth II in The Queen, here she completed the full set by playing Elizabeth I paying tribute to her 21st century namesake.
‘For all these years you have carried our nation,’ declared a full-throated Dame Helen (looking every inch the part), ‘You have been at its heart, its drumbeat. You have given us purpose and when situations have been challenging your hope, guidance and leadership have been unswerving.
‘I therefore speak on behalf of a grateful nation and Commonwealth when I give you our sincere and most loving thanks.’
The audience roared their approval.
Screened live on ITV, the event frequently brought the 5,000-strong crowd to its feet.
At times, they weren’t sure which way to look – over at Hollywood stars Damian Lewis and Tom Cruise narrating on one side of the arena or over at the Royal Box on the other.
There was certainly no concealing the contentment on the face of the guest of honour.
As the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Steel Orchestra belted out Abba’s Dancing Queen, cheers and laughter echoed from the Royal Box, and right across the park.
Here, too, was everything from a team of huskies and daredevil Azerbaijani stunt riders (pictured) to a vast Union-embracing medley of Scottish dancing
It is less than a week since the Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in nearly 60 years due to what the Palace has called ‘episodic mobility problems’.
Fortunately, she had been spared any of these last night. These two events were entirely different, of course.
A trip to Westminster to process in state, to sit before both Houses of Parliament and to deliver a speech on live television is a very different challenge from sitting under a rug with old friends and family watching the thrills and drama of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery performing their famous Musical Drive (even if she has seen it a thousand times before).
Here, too, was everything from a team of huskies and daredevil Azerbaijani acrobat riders to a vast Union-embracing medley of Scottish dancing, Welsh singing and Irish and English ponies.
Tartan twirl: Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo dancers pictured at last night’s show
Besides, at the age of 96, one is fully entitled to decide on the day how one is feeling before leaving the house.
The crowds were euphoric from the start at the mere glimpse of her Range Rover on giant screens. Ovation followed ovation as she took a lift to her seat. Thunderous applause sent her home at the end.
The organisers had arranged a spot towards the rear of the Royal Box (so that Her Majesty could leave early and without a fuss if she wanted – though she certainly did not). There was also overhead heating making it all delightfully (if unroyally) snug.
Dame Helen Mirren, pictured, had last night dressed up as Her Majesty’s namesake Elizabeth I
The pageant was the rousing finale to the great event of the past few days, the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
One of the largest and most prestigious shows of its kind in Europe, it has also always had a homely feel, with plenty of Pony Club capers at one end as well as top international showjumping at the other. This is where, in a life of great honours and accolades, the Queen won her very first prize – for anything.
In the summer of 1944, shortly before D-Day, both Princess Elizabeth, then 18, and Princess Margaret, 14, competed here and came top in their respective carriage-driving classes.
Margaret drove ‘Gipsy’ in a utility cart while Lilibet drove ‘Hans’ in an open pony-chaise which had been used by Queen Victoria. The two princesses had only been carriage driving for a month and their proud parents were there to cheer them on.
For most of his life, the Duke of Edinburgh was the very active patron/president of this event, too.
Little wonder, then, that the arrival of Lady Louise, driving the duke’s carriage, was such a powerful and poignant moment. As another celebrity narrator (by now we were on to Alan Titchmarsh) voiced the nation’s appreciation for the late duke, one or two of those around me were in tears.
Here, too, were so many from the Queen’s own stables – two of her shire horses, a pair of Irish draught horses and the Arab stallion given to her by the King of Bahrain and umpteen more.
Duty aside, if there has been one thread which has run through the life (as well as the reign) of our extraordinary Queen, it is surely horses.
What better way, then, to kick off this great Jubilee summer than by saluting her with hundreds of them?