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There may be no group in the world that understands the power and import of the carefully choreographed photo op quite like the British royal family.
And there may be no better proof of that than the clan’s Buckingham Palace balcony appearance on the first day of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations on Thursday: a master class in image making and communication not just for the people arrayed in front and the millions watching, but also for history.
This is, after all, a celebration marking the longest reign of a British monarch ever. That makes the balcony shot one for the record books.
Despite the missing family members (Prince Philip, who died last year; Prince Andrew, relieved of his official roles because of his association with Jeffrey Epstein; Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who are in London for the celebrations along with their children but have not yet appeared in public because they are not working royals), four generations of Windsors filled the balcony, like a summer bouquet in many shades of blue, white and red, blooming around the queen herself.
It was a visual statement about coordination, solidarity and continuity that was impossible to miss. And if it wasn’t quite as obviously patriotic as some of the Union Jack outfits in the crowd, the colors painted a picture that was fully on-theme.
At the heart of it: the queen, in a powder-blue coat, dress and matching hat and gloves, with white laurel leaf trim in diamanté and pearls (plus some cool tinted sunglasses). The outfit was designed by Angela Kelly, her longtime personal assistant and senior dresser.
Matching her was Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in her own mint blue hat and blue-and-white striped dress. Not to mention the queen’s great-grandchildren, with George in a navy suit and cornflower tie that matched Charlotte’s cornflower dress and Louis’s sailor suit — which itself echoed the navy and white of Catherine’s Philip Treacy hat. All of which made for an effective image of serenity and soft-power contrast with the heavily decorated bright red military dress of Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duke of Kent, and Princess Anne’s navy (also a calculated balance, given the current war being waged in Ukraine).
Yet for all the traditionalism and pageantry, there were also indications that the royals were adapting to the future.
Perhaps best embodied by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, who was wearing sapphire and diamond earrings that had belonged to her mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as a white Alexander McQueen coat dress that was as stripped-down as many suggest the future working royal family should be.
It was a choice to support a British brand, of course: The McQueen designer, Sarah Burton, was responsible for Catherine’s wedding dress and has also been behind many of her most public outfits. But it was also recycled from Catherine’s previous appearance at a 2021 Group of 7 reception.
A reminder, perhaps, that the monarchy hopes to be sustainable, in all meanings of that word.