The Queen’s Birthday Parade: What is Trooping The Colour?

Each June Her Majesty the Queen gets an official Birthday parade in London, full of fabulous British Pomp and Circumstance. But what actually is Trooping The Colour?

Trooping The Colour

I’ll be straight with you here.

Until I started training as a Blue Badge Guide, I’d never taken much notice of these ‘touristy’ spectacles. But last week I had a ticket to see the Colonel’s Review (dress rehearsal) of Trooping The Colour and here’s what I learned…

A brief history

The Sovereign’s birthday is officially celebrated with a ceremony involving all the household division (Foot Guards and Household Calvary (Horse Guards) who have the honour of protecting the sovereign and all royal palaces). Despite the Queen’s real birthday being 21 April, Trooping The Colour happens in early June. If I were Queen, I’d like two birthdays too.

We can trace the custom of Trooping The Colour back to the 17th century, when Charles II was back on the throne and the monarchy were in full propaganda mode (mainly to avoid the mistakes of his father and end up separated from his head).

The whole point of the ceremony is that the ‘colour’ (flag) of a particular regiment is seen by the monarch. A regiment’s colour is a rallying point in battle so every day, it’s shown to troops to make sure they recognise it, hence why it’s part of the Guard Change.

Trooping The Colour

Each year a different regiment gets the honour of parading their colour in front of the Queen and for 2018, it’s the Coldstream Guards’ turn.

A bit of background on the Household Division

Within the Foot Guards, there are five regiments; Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Welsh and Irish. Within the Household Cavalry, there are two; Life Guards and Blues and Royals. The wonderful website Changing-Guard has a lovely little infographic to help identify them here.

Things To Look Out For

It’s a HUGE spectacle. More than 1,400 guardsmen will take part. And that’s before you take into account the 200 horses and over 400 musicians! Here are some of my highlights from the Colonel’s Review.

The Uniforms

The scarlet coats and bearskins (black hats) are a symbol of Britain, recognised worldwide. Each uniform can cost as much as £1,000 and they need to be looking immaculate when on duty.

Trooping The Colour

The Irish band – above – can be distinguished by the bright blue plume in their bearskin.

One difference that caught my eye, was the figure of a Sikh soldier wearing a turban instead of the traditional hat. There has been a long history of Sikh soldiers guarding the Queen, but the first guardsmen to wear a turban on duty instead of a bearskin was Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar in 2012.

Trooping The Colour

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The Precision

For months the soldiers train – day and night – to make sure their lines are straight, they march in time and they flow like one organism rather than separate beings.

Trooping The Colour

Senior Guards ensure the lines are straight!

Really, the movements have to be seen to be believed. So here’s a selection of snippets (including a mesmerising timelapse!)

The Discipline

If you thought the marching was hard. Also spare a thought for the ‘Marksmen’. His job is to mark the outer perimeter, keeping the soldiers in formation. He stands there for over two hours, not moving a muscle.

Trooping The Colour

The Colour

Lest we forget, it’s the flag that’s the whole point of the ceremony! You’ll see it being marched around the entire area of House Guards Parade.

Trooping The Colour

The Queen!

As it was only a rehearsal, there was no one in the special seat laid out especially for the Queen and Prince Philip, but on Saturday 9 June (rain or shine!) They’ll be sitting here.

Trooping The Colour

Later in the ceremony the Queen inspects her troops and used to do so on horseback. Now she’s 92 it seems fair that she now opts for a carriage ride!

Trooping The Colour

Fallen Soldiers

On hot days, when soldiers are standing still for hours, it’s not uncommon for someone – on occasion – to faint.

Trooping The Colour

More seriously, they can also be thrown off their horses, which also happened during the rehearsal.

Far from being a purely ‘ceremonial’ position, it’s always worth remembering that these soldiers are just that – soldiers in the British Army.

Trooping The Colour

Watch Trooping The Colour

There are two rehearsals for Trooping The Colour, with tickets available to buy in advance for £10 from the British Army website. They tend to go on sale in January.

As for the actual event, even if you don’t have tickets, you can catch some of the action from outside the parade ground. There’s another helpful guide by Changing Guard here, or you can of course hire a guide to show you all the best bits and hidden history!

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