I came off the reserve bench to attend The Queen‘s 90th Birthday Celebration — or HMQ90 as it’s more snappily known — last night. My parents had tickets to go with friends, but Dad crocked his back about 10 days ago and is still in the recovery phase (lying on the sofa with an iPad while meals are brought to him), so I got a late call-up to take his place.
Going places with your parents is marvellous — Mum brought smoked salmon sandwiches, complete with napkins, and it was just like going to Olympia when I was a kid. I even got to give her my rubbish to put back in her bag when I’d finished my supper. And her friends brought fruit and Jaffa cakes. This was an excellent evening already.
On to the serious stuff. HMQ90 was described by the great Shakespearean actor Simon Callow in the introduction as “the biggest birthday party ever held”.
“We’re here to celebrate a life less ordinary in a fitting tribute to Her Majesty,” he said, introducing an evening which would bring together three core elements — the Armed Forces, the Commonwealth and “a private passion”, horses.
It was the first night last night and the preview was cancelled due to the weather, so there must have been some tense moments backstage, but this huge spectacle came together brilliantly. I hope they at least had a “dry dress rehearsal” for lighting, sound and big screen, even if there were no horses — I’ve done a fair amount of amateur dramatics and that stuff can be pretty complex to co-ordinate.
There was a nervous giggle from the audience when there was a long pause early on (below) — had someone forgotten their lines? Had a cue not worked? But it turned out we were waiting for the royal guest, the Princess Royal, and all was well.
Three people fell off — two from the Royal Cavalry of Oman (below) and one from our own Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment — but it was the horses’ first time in this atmosphere and a bit of spooking was quite understandable. The only one who didn’t leave the arena under her own steam was reported to be fine. Phew.
Overall though, this was a wonderful evening — anyone with a ticket is in for a treat and if you’re not going in person, make sure you tune in to ITV on Sunday night to watch the final performance, hosted by Ant and Dec.
12 unforgettable moments from HMQ90
1. Great use of the big screen for archive footage — it showed lots of old photos and video from The Queen’s life, as well as footage from the countries performing. We know from our own experience here at H&H how much people like black and white photos and this was beautifully done.
2. The sheer scale of this beast. A quick fire of stats from the programme reveals that 900 horses and ponies and 1,500 participants were involved, including 600 members of the Armed Forces. The Global Village housing the equine and human cast will go through 3,000 bales of hay, 600 bags of hard feed and 4,000 bales of shavings. A mind-boggling 60,000 meals will be served there during the week.
3. There’s a giant birthday cake at the end. Enough said.
4. The Fijians brought their own boat. I’m still not quite sure why, but it was impressive.
5. The Atholl Highlanders — these brought back memories of last year’s eventing European Championships at Blair.
6. The amazing acrobatic riders — their Karabakh horses from Azerbaijan galloped flat out across the arena through a temporary lane made with tapes, while their riders did remarkable feats such as swinging themselves right down under the girth and back up the other side, or doing the same under the horse’s neck.
7. The Queen’s own horse and ponies, from Highlands (below) to the ex-racehorse Barbers Shop — fresh from his Royal Windsor win — and her own riding pony.
8. Gleaming cows — with sparkles on them. I swear there was glitter on those cows. Oh — and there was a goat. A regimental mascot? Lovely.
9. The “musical ride for cars”. Sorry, again not quite sure who these guys were, but you needed nerves of steel to watch them doing the scissors.
10. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. I’ve seen it lots of times, but seeing those guns pulled by the teams of horses is always impressive — and it always makes you jump when they’re fired, however much you know it’s going to happen.
11. The screens around the arena — I loved the bear that appeared for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the corgis.
12. The Top Secret Drum Corps, Switzerland. I do wonder how a drum corps can be top secret — surely the point is to be noisy? But anyway, they were wonderful — they did all this superbly synchronised baton twirling and beating on each other’s drums, which only the Swiss could have pulled off. One of Mum’s friends commented it was like Switzerland’s Got Talent.
Buy next week’s Horse & Hound magazine (19 May) for full coverage of Royal Windsor Horse Show