UK

Coronavirus: Queen's official birthday marked with unique ceremony

Queen Elizabeth II at the ceremony at Windsor Castle Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption It is the first time the Queen has celebrated her official birthday at Windsor Castle

The Queen's official birthday has been marked with a unique ceremony performed by the Welsh Guard at Windsor Castle.

It comes after the traditional Trooping the Colour parade was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is only the second time in her 68-year reign that the parade in London has not gone ahead.

The Queen, flanked by officials, sat alone on a dais for the ceremony. It was her first official public appearance since lockdown began.

The Queen celebrated her 94th birthday in April, but it is officially - and publicly - celebrated on the second Saturday of June every year.

It is typically accompanied by the annual announcement of the Queen's Birthday Honours' List. However, this year she has "graciously agreed" to postpone publication of the list to the autumn.

In a statement last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the delay "will allow us to ensure that the list, agreed before this public health emergency developed, reflects the Covid-19 effort, and comes at a time when we can properly celebrate the achievements of all those included".

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Image caption Guardsmen kept their distance as they stood in formation in the central quadrangle of Windsor Castle
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Image caption All the troops had learnt new marching techniques for the occasion, to conform with social distancing measures
Image copyright Getty Images

The ceremonial tribute, dubbed a mini-Trooping, was performed by a small number of Welsh Guardsmen and the band of the Household Division.

BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell described it as "a birthday parade for changed times".

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Media captionThe Queen watches a mini-Trooping at Windsor Castle

The Queen received a royal salute. It was followed by a display of precision marching - with the military maintaining strict social distancing measures, in keeping with government guidelines.

With fewer people on parade because of social distancing rules, "there is no hiding place" said Garrison Sgt Maj Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Stokes, who created the display.

"But more spacing between individuals means that there is also no room for errors and so the soldier has to really concentrate on their own personal drill, reaction to orders, dressing and social distancing," he said.

Normally, Guardsmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder during their drills or when formed up on the parade ground, but on Saturday they stood 2.2m apart.

Guardsman Lance Corporal Chusa Siwale, 29, originally from Zambia, had a central role in the ceremony, performing the Drummer's Call.

"Only four weeks ago I was involved with testing key workers for Covid-19, as part of the Welsh Guards' contribution to the battle against the virus. Now I am on parade performing in front of Her Majesty.

"This is a very proud day for me."

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Image caption The Queen appeared to enjoy the more intimate occasion
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Image caption No other members of the Royal family attended the ceremony on Saturday

It was the first time the Queen has celebrated her official birthday at Windsor Castle. An event for a sovereign's birthday has not been staged there since 1895, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have spent the lockdown in isolation at Windsor Castle, and were photographed there earlier this month to mark Prince Philip's 99th birthday.

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Image caption A new photo of the Queen and Prince Philip was released to mark his 99th birthday
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Image caption Last year's parade: The Queen and other royals gather to witness the Red Arrows perform a flypast

The Trooping the Colour parade in Whitehall is usually watched by thousands of spectators and senior members of the Royal Family.

The last time the event was cancelled was in 1955, two years after the Queen's coronation, due to a national rail strike.

Maj Gen Christopher Ghika, who commands the Household Division, said the circumstances surrounding the decision to host the tribute in Windsor were "clouded in tragedy".

"The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating in terms of loss of life and the threatening of livelihoods of so many across the country," he said.

"People have had to endure separation from loved ones, great uncertainty and the suspension of so much of what is special about our national life."

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Media captionThe Royal Opera Chorus reunites online for the Queen's official birthday

Gen Ghika added: "The Welsh Guards and many of those on parade have recently been deployed within the United Kingdom as part of the nation's response to the virus and so the context of the ceremony is particularly poignant."

The Welsh Guards, along with the rest of the Household Division, have been among the soldiers helping with the coronavirus response, for example at test centres.

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