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