A 'stunningly successful' year for the monarchy – with the barest of scandals

Celebrations in 2012 to mark Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne were widely considered a success, but they also reflected the deft way the 86-year-old has moved the monarchy forward, with its nod towards the younger generations.

When Queen Elizabeth marked 40 years on the throne in 1992, she could not avoid the scandal and controversy that engulfed the Royal Family at the time.

The milestone year was clearly an "annus horribilis," as the Queen herself put it.

The Queen on the screen

She may be a symbol of stability and tradition, but the Queen also blazes a few trails – particularly on screen.

Her universally praised cameo as a kind of Bond girl during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics was unprecedented — and came as a complete surprise, apparently even to members of her family.

She's doing something new for Christmas, too, going 3D for the first time in her annual message that will be broadcast on Dec. 25.

Buckingham Palace had ruled out televising the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 3D.

The Queen's coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised.

Ten years later, her Golden Jubilee was a success, but still began under a sad shadow — the deaths of her mother and sister in a two-month span early in 2002. The celebrations also unfolded under a cloud of uncertainty and media chatter about the future of the monarchy itself.

But this year's Diamond Jubilee took place under no such controversy or shadow, and also reflected the deft way the 86-year-old Queen has moved the monarchy forward, with its nod towards the younger generations and their emerging responsibilities.

The Diamond Jubilee was an "immense success," says Ninian Mellamphy, a professor emeritus at Western University in London, Ont., and a long-time royal watcher.

The Royal Family "had some very, very positive stories going for them, and the fact the Queen is still a powerfully healthy and bright person is also something that the British subjects should be celebrating in no small way."

Along with the jubilee, Mellamphy points to the 65th anniversary of the Queen's marriage to Prince Philip, 91, and the Royal Family's frequent and popular appearances throughout the London Olympics as high points of their year.

Capping it off was the announcement that Prince William and Kate would be having their first child at some point next spring or early summer.

Even Prince Harry's public shenanigans — photographed naked, apparently after a losing game of strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel room — seemed to sail by with very little in the way of public disapproval.

Tepid Canada?

Central to this year's jubilee was the four-day celebration in Britain during the first weekend of June. Much of the action was focused in London, with the four-hour river pageant down the Thames attracting large crowds even in the pelting rain.

"The weekend in the beginning of June was … an incredible outpouring of patriotism and admiration and celebration," says Washington, D.C.-based author Sally Bedell Smith, whose book Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch was one of several biographies appearing this year.

Bedell Smith watched the river pageant from a friend's flat near the Battersea Bridge and, later, talked to one of the Queen's advisers about how the family felt about the celebrations.

"They felt that everybody — I mean there were over a million people lining the banks of the Thames and thousands more up on balconies and packed on the bridges — and they felt the people had made a real effort so they wanted to be there with them and they were grateful so many people had turned out.

"They wanted to respond in kind and reward them, which I thought … quite lovely."

Bedell Smith views 2012 as a "stunningly successful" year for the monarchy, when the size of the crowds and the "overall response surpassed people's expectations."

In Canada, however, the celebrations marking the jubilee weren't quite so monumental.

Prince Charles arrives at Ryerson University in Toronto to visit the digital media zone on May 22, 2012. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan in May. The crowds welcoming them were warm — if not overwhelming.

"That really was a bit of a dull thing," says Mellamphy.

"That's a measure, I suppose, of Canada's enthusiasm for royalty. Basically it's a matter of immense indifference and I suppose that whatever loyalty there is has to do with the age of the Queen and the great success of her career."

The Department of Canadian Heritage allocated a modest $2 million for 324 community celebrations to mark the Diamond Jubilee. Requests totaling nearly $6.7 million were submitted.

"The Diamond Jubilee year allowed Canadians to celebrate our traditions, our history and our symbols, and generated greater awareness of the important role of the Crown in Canada," the department said in an email.

Mellamphy called the $2 million "a charitable donation to nostalgia."

Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex also visited Canada in September. Their seven-day trip was billed a "working visit" and had a considerably lower profile than other royal visits.

Long lenses

For all the success of the jubilee, there were also moments when royal headlines were less glowing, although there was nothing to rival the angst of Charles's and Diana's marriage breakdown in 1992.

This year, long-lensed photographers found a topless Duchess of Cambridge sun-bathing on a terrace in the south of France in September, and Harry was photographed frolicking naked in the Las Vegas hotel room, with his hands over his privates.

Until that American experience, Harry, who has returned to serve in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot, had been having a pretty good year.

The Queen dispatched her children and grandchildren to Commonwealth countries to mark the jubilee, and Harry's trip to the Caribbean garnered welcoming headlines, with photos of him ripping up the running track with Olympic medal winner Usain Bolt.

"It was a diplomatic triumph particularly in Jamaica where the prime minister had said only weeks earlier she wanted to replace the Queen as the head of state with an elected president, and Harry was just himself and completely charmed her," says Bedell Smith.

The next generation

Bedell Smith sees a direct comparison — and differences — between this year's events and the Golden Jubilee celebrations of 2002.

A number of factors played into the increased stability this year, compared with 2002, Bedell Smith says, including the "subtle but definite modernization of the monarchy very much according to the Queen's style and personality."

Following the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, the Queen had been roundly criticized for seeming remote and out of touch.

But she has adjusted, Bedell Smith says. "She has a very good sense of how far to go and she knows the limits of what she should be doing and what will be effective."

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left; Prince Charles; Prince William; Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London on June 5, 2012, to conclude the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Bedell Smith looks to one image from 2012 as particularly indicative of the Queen's recognition of the need to move with the times.

"Obviously everybody's going to remember the opening ceremony video of the Queen as a Bond girl, but I think the important image — and she's very good at telegraphing her intentions through imagery — was that scene on the Buckingham Palace balcony on the last day of the jubliee weekend where it was just the core family."

Unlike 2002 when the balcony was jam-packed with Royals, this appearance was stripped down to the Queen, (Prince Philip was in hospital), Charles, Camilla, Charles's son and second-in-line William, his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry.

The Queen, says Bedell Smith, was "signaling that this was the future and that the succession was secure and both her sons and her two grandsons had been well-trained and that the monarchy was going to be in good hands."

"And now of course with the announcement that William and Kate are having a baby you can envision that the monarchy, barring unforeseen circumstances or events, looks secure through the 22nd century, which is quite something."

For his part, Mellamphy agrees with this assessment, up to a point, and considers William and Kate "incredibly positive images" for the monarchy, particularly in Britain. Beyond that, he's less sure.

"It's certainly England's future, and Britain's, depending on what happens to Scotland, but I think from the Canadian point of view, it's very much their future rather than ours."


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.