In Depth

Trooping the Colour 2019: how to watch the Queen’s birthday parade

The centuries-old tradition is one of the most spectacular events of the royal calendar

The tradition of British kings and queens having two birthdays dates back more than 250 years, to the reign of King George II in 1748.

Although born in April, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her “second” birthday next Saturday on 8 June, with one of the most elaborate and opulent ceremonies of the royal calendar: Trooping the Colour.

A large-scale display of pageantry, pomp and circumstance, Trooping the Colour takes place every year in June and sees the Queen’s personal troops, the Household Division, marching at Horse Guards Parade in central London, with the Queen attending and taking the salute.

What is the significance of Trooping the Colour?

In the past, flags, or “colours”, were used as a method of identification for different regiments of the British Army during conflicts, as they “made it easy for soldiers to recognise their units even in the chaos of a battlefield”, says Culture Trip.

“Of course, the soldiers would have to learn which colours belonged to their regiment, so they were regularly marched and displayed, or trooped by a young officer,” the travel site adds.

This has morphed over time into the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony, which while serving no discernable purpose in modern warfare, has become associated with the monarch’s official birthday.

The ceremony became a makeshift second - and unofficial - birthday of the monarch during the reign of King George II (1727-1760).

George was born in November, but instead of risking his soldiers catching a cold during a birthday parade, and in order to allow citizens to celebrate outdoors, he combined his birthday celebration with the annual Trooping of the Colour parade.

The ceremony is one of the oldest continuously observed royal celebrations, and is believed to have been performed first during the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685).

Furthermore, the Household Division are amongst the oldest regiments of the British Army and have served as the personal bodyguards of the monarch since the Crown was restored after the English Civil War in 1660.

What happens at Trooping the Colour?

In its current form, the event is packed with strictly choreographed procedures and rituals.

The Queen first travels down The Mall from Buckingham Palace by carriage, with a Sovereign’s Escort from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, says the official Changing of the Guard website.

“As the clock on Horse Guards chimes eleven, Her Majesty The Queen arrives to take the Royal Salute from the officers and men of the Household Division on parade. After the salute, the Queen rides up and down the ranks, in her carriage, inspecting the troops on parade,” the site says.

“After the massed bands have performed a musical ‘troop’, the Regimental Colour, being trooped, is escorted up and down the ranks of Guards.”

The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry then march past the Queen, while the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, rank past with their guns, after which the Queen rides in her carriage back to Buckingham Palace before taking the salute there.

Hello! magazine says the Queen’s great grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, could join the royal family, including their mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, in the carriage procession along the Mall for the first time.

Their father, Prince William, who was just four when he made his Trooping the Colour debut in 1987, will ride beside Prince Charles on horseback.

In total, the Daily Mail has calculated up to 1,450 soldiers will participate in the parade along with more than 200 horses and 400 musicians, while the Officer in Command of the Parade will give 113 words of command.

Members of the royal family will then join the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch what many consider the highlight of the ceremony - a dramatic fly-past by the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows at 1pm.

While three generations of the royal family will join the Queen, it is not known whether Prince Philip will accompany them. The 98-year-old retired from royal duties in 2017 and was not present at last year’s ceremony. However, a source told People magazine “he does what he wants” meaning that the Duke could well wait until the day of Trooping the Colour itself to make a decision as to whether he will attend, says the Daily Express.

Following the fly-past, a 41-gun salute will be conducted in Green Park, just next door to Buckingham Palace.

The Queen has taken the salute at every parade since her accession to the throne 67 years ago, according to The Daily Telegraph, except in 1955 when it was called off due to a national rail strike.

How can I watch the ceremony?

Tickets, priced at £5 for standing and £40 for sitting, usually go on sale early in the year via a ballot system and sell out quickly, and 2019 is no different. This year’s online ballot closed on 1 March, and all the tickets have been snapped up.

However, those determined to see the ceremony can head down to The Mall, where you may be able to catch a glimpse of members of the royal family as they go past. Alternatively, camp out at the edge of St James’s Park to see the troops on Horse Guards Parade. The Culture Trip recommends arriving at either of those two locations by 9am at the latest in order to claim a spot.

If you can’t wrangle a decent viewpoint for the ceremony, the Red Arrows fly-past is visible from across most of central London, so be sure to look up if you’re in the area.

And if you are not able to go in person, the BBC will be broadcasting the event in full.

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