Holy catfish, y’all – my day started with a Meredith Vieira sighting in Starbucks and ended with a concert by Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox and Paul McCartney – given for me and 250,000 of my closest friends.
I get to do this kind of stuff. SERIOUSLY.
I slept WAY later than I wanted to this morning, and was rewarded for my laziness twice over – faster Internet connection speeds to upload my blog, AND a celebrity sighting at the Starbucks on the corner by my hotel. I walked in the back entrance, and saw a slender woman in a bright pink dress and KILLER heels – pink and orange and peep-toe, with these fabulous brass zippers on them. As she walked out the front door, and I waited for my coffee, I thought she looked really familiar. Her driver was helping her into her van (since she was having difficulty managing coffee and climbing and killer shoes) and I saw a middle-aged woman at a table looking out at the van and typing furiously on her iPad. I leaned over to her and said, “Isn’t that Meredith Vieira?” It was, and it turns out she’s here covering the Diamond Jubilee for the Today Show. The woman in Starbucks lives in D.C., so was able to bring the whole crowd in the shop up to speed on what a big deal she (Meredith, not this lady) was in the States. This lady could have been a big deal in the states, too, for all I know – but her shoes were nowhere near as fabulous.
SO – I thought it would be hard to top that. I was so, so, SO wrong.
I went on to the Tower of London, which has long been one of my favorite spots – I’ve been three times now, and every time I see something different and learn something new. Looks a bit less crowded now than yesterday, eh?
I went straight to the Crown Jewels exhibit, which has been really nicely re-done to celebrate the Jubilee. Since they are the Crown Jewels, they’re guarded by one of the Queen’s guards who paces up and down next to the entrance.
They’ve got a multimedia exhibit showing pictures of each piece of the Jewels as they’re used in the coronation ceremony, and where they came from. I had no idea most of the original crown jewels were destroyed after the Civil War in 1642, and remade once the monarchy was restored. The jewels were still there, still sparkly, and lots of photos of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation helped us see them in action and made it much more real.
Coming out of the Jewel House, I saw these wire metal sculptures of monkeys and was totally creeped out. What the heck were they doing there? I learned later they were to draw attention to the fact that the London Zoo actually started with a collection of exotic animals held in the Tower (including a polar bear that used to swim in the Thames).
And just after I took this photo my camera crapped out, so I have no awesome pictures to show you of the following things:
- Yeoman Warder Mitch Jones, who lead my tour with fabulous jokes and touching stories about having his daughter Sarah married in the Tower Chapel.
- Henry VIII’s suit of armor with the crazy-huge codpiece. On our first visit to the Tower, my friend CJ pointed it out to me and I said, without reading the description, “That HAS to belong to Henry VIII!” She asked how I knew, and I said, “No other man would have that high an opinion of himself.” And I was right.
- The world’s largest suit of armor, which would fit a 6′ 8″ man. We just call those “Clay” back home.
- The dragon sculpture, Keeper, made entirely of weapons from the Tower’s vaults, which was really flippin’ cool. You can find out more about him here.
So, no photos of that, or of my long jaunt to Waterloo station to try to find the awesome knitting shop my friend Kara recommended. Once I did finally find it, it was closed for the public holiday. I cursed my aching feet and lack of research skills which might have saved me some walking, and went back to do battle with my camera’s memory card.
Memory card restored, and fortified by pasta salad and fresh fruit from Sainsbury’s (love you, British grocery stores!) I decided to take a chance on joining the crowds for the Jubilee Concert put on by the BBC in front of Buckingham Palace. Boy howdy, am I glad I did!
I wandered and wandered through St. James’ Park, until I found a spot about halfway down the Mall in view of one of half a dozen viewing screen set up for the event. And it was spectacular. Robbie Williams opening up with “Let Us Entertain You”, Grace Jones spinning a hula hoop on her hips throughout an entire song that I couldn’t understand, all the way to Sir Elton John singing “Your Song” (I cried like a baby during this one) and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” reworked for the Queen.
The Queen herself came out after Tom Jones’ set (I suspect because her heart couldn’t handle Tom Jones – he’s still quite the stud!) and she was wearing a fetching little cape to ward off the chill. Only in London would people attend a summer concert wearing North Face jackets and gloves – both of which I wished I had! Sir Paul McCartney had the whole crowd – all 250,000 of us – jumping up and down during “Live and Let Die” and singing our guts out at “Obladi Oblada, Life Goes On.”
All the artists came back onstage while Prince Charles gave a very moving tribute to her Majesty, whom he did call “Mummy” at the beginning of his speech. We all cheered for Prince Philip, who was hospitalized with a bladder infection, and I think I detected a bit of a lip wobble on the Queen’s face when Prince Charles mentioned his father’s absence. It was sweet and really sad – to think that the husband who had been by her side for more than 60 years wasn’t there. I cried a little bit then too.
Then the Queen lit the Royal Beacon. My little revolutionary heart couldn’t bring itself to sing “God Save the Queen” (especially the line “Long may she reign over us” – so maybe my D.A.R. membership is still possible) but it was wonderful to see so many people singing and waving their flags. It was wonderful to see people dancing during so many of the songs – husbands with wives, fathers with young daughters, conga lines of complete strangers. There was a wonderful party atmosphere that made everyone smile.
And once a crazy-impressive fireworks show was over, we all moved very quickly and in an orderly fashion out of the Mall. I walked down Whitehall to the Westminster Tube station, caught a train back to Victoria, gave directions back to Victoria Station to a lost British couple (Look at me! The American! Helping the locals!) and fell into bed. Tomorrow is another BIG day – the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery (where I’ll see if Laurence Stern and I still have a “thing”), a lunchtime concert, then tickets to Phatom of the Opera! The hits just keep coming here!