In a rare interview, Queen Elizabeth marks the 65th anniversary of her coronation with an exclusive interview with the BBC.
It’s not every day that one of the world’s most beloved monarchs sits down for an in-depth interview. Yet, perched in front of the cameras in a royal blue dress and delicate pearls, Queen Elizabeth was the epitome of grace.
On Jan. 14, the Smithsonian Channel aired the one-hour BBC documentary, The Coronation, in which the queen vividly recounts her memories of the 1953 ceremony to royal commentator Alastair Bruce.
The queen acceded to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952 at age 25 after the sudden death of her beloved father, George VI. Despite the nations post-war struggles, a dazzling coronation was televised the following year on June 2 at Westminster Abbey.
What really sets this documentary apart from the plethora of other films out there that chronicles the House of Windsor is the queen’s utter candidness: at times both solemn and playful, the 91-year-old sure knows how to weave a great narrative.
My favourite moment? When Her Royal Highness rather cheekily reveals how one should deliver a speech while wearing the two-pound Imperial State Crown. (You know, should you or I ever find ourselves in a similar position.)
“You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up,” she says, a slow smile spreading across her face. “Because if you did, your neck would break. It would fall off. So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”
Here, we revisit some the most memorable revelations from The Coronation.
Elizabeth, coronation critic
Although only 11 years old when her father, George VI, was crowned king, Elizabeth was tasked with penning a painstakingly detailed review of his coronation. The reason? Her father wanted her to be prepared for the inevitable—her own day in the spotlight, scepter in hand and crown on head.
Her bold critique, however, included this gem: “At the end, the service got rather boring as it was all prayers. Grannie and I were looking to see how many more pages to the end, and we turned one more and then I pointed to the word at the bottom of the page and it said ‘Finis.’ We both smiled at each other and turned back to the service.”
The night before coronation
On the evening before the queen’s coronation, a dozen armed Yeoman Warders stood guard over the regalia at Westminster Abbey. The Crown Jewels remain among the royal family’s most prized possessions and include 140 items, totaling more than 23,000 precious stones. The doc reveals that, during the Second World War, as Britain fell into chaos during the Blitz, the jewels were hidden 60 feet below Windsor Castle while the most valuable of the gems were placed inside a nondescript cookie tin lest the royals be required to beat a hasty retreat.
I anoint thee
The recipe for anointing oil, in case you ever wondered (or if you just wanted to recreate your own coronation in the comfort of your living room) is as follows: sesame and olive oils perfumed with roses, orange flowers, jasmine, musk, civet, and ambergris.
A royal pain in the you-know-what
It’s a four-ton gilded carriage that’s been used in every coronation since the days of George IV. It’s beautiful to behold, but the Gold State Coach—the most regal form of transportation—is, in fact, a royal pain in the you-know-what. Literally. The queen characterized the ride during her coronation as “horrible.” And, due to the weight of the carriage, the horses moved at an almost glacial pace. “It’s just not meant for travelling in,” she says in the documentary. “It’s only sprung on leather.”
Heavy is the head that wears the crown?
Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth has only worn the St. Edward’s Crown (the centerpiece of the Crown Jewels) once in her six-decade reign—and she was briefly reunited with the five-pound crown on camera in Buckingham Palace’s Throne Room, making for one of the doc’s most memorable moments.
The crown, made in 1661 for the coronation of Charles II, is only allowed to be handled by three people in the entire world: the queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the crown jeweler, who presents the object in question to the queen while wearing his mandatory white gloves.
The queen, upon laying eyes on the crown once again, tentatively asks: “Is it still as heavy?” She gently lifts the crown from its cushion and observes matter-of-factly, “Yes, it is.”
The Coronation aired on Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. on Smithsonian Channel and was made in partnership with the BBC and Australian Broadcasting Corporation.