Queen Elizabeth is doing something she has rarely done throughout her extraordinary six-decade reign: speaking candidly on camera.
The Queen, 91, makes a surprise appearance in a new documentary, The Coronation, in which she discusses her historic 1953 coronation and the dazzling crown used on that day. Along with her memories of the ceremony, which took place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, she also looks back on the 1937 coronation of her father, King George VI.
“I’ve seen one coronation, and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable,” says the royal great-grandmother, who is currently staying at Sandringham House for her winter break.
The documentary, which airs on airs Smithsonian Channel in the U.S. on January 14 at 8 p.m. E.T., was made in partnership with the BBC and Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
While watching both private and official film footage, the Queen — whose coronation came 16 months after she ascended to the throne at age 25, following the death of her father — reminisces about the day when the weight of both St. Edward’s Crown and the hopes and expectations of a country recovering from WWII were on her shoulders.
Charlotte Moore, Director of Content at the BBC, adds, “It is truly an honor to have Her Majesty The Queen revealing her intimate knowledge of the Crown Jewels — and fond childhood memories from when her father was crowned King George VI.
“The Queen’s words will bring to life the importance of the coronation ceremony for modern audiences to enjoy.”
The Coronation also features eyewitness accounts of those who took part in the big day, including a maid of honor who nearly fainted in the Abbey and a 12-year-old choir boy who was left to sing solo when his overwhelmed colleagues lost their voices.
Using rare footage, the film explores the beauty and story of the Crown Jewels — 140 items that include 23,000 precious stones. The show-stopping piece is the St. Edward’s Crown, which was destroyed after the English Civil War and remade for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661. It has only been worn by the Queen once, at the moment she was crowned. (And even then, she only wore it briefly because of it’s whopping 4-lb. weight, switching to the “lighter” (3-lb!) Imperial State Crown.)
Coronation expert Alastair Bruce is featured in the program and explains much of the ceremony and the garments and jewels worn on the day. “The Crown Jewels include ‘The Regalia,’ which are used at a coronation when the monarch is invested with the best known, if least understood, symbols of this kingdom,” he says.
“Post boxes, police helmets, income tax returns and almost every visual expression of the United Kingdom displays a Crown and Orb. The meaning of each of the key objects has evolved from emblems of authority that date way back before the Saxons arrived. Yet there is an enduring relevance to modern leadership wrapped into each symbol that express values of humility, duty and service, while representing total power. Discovering their meaning helps to define what the Sovereign is to the Crown and how that Crown is the property of us all, in the constitutional function of Monarchy.”
David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production for Smithsonian Channel, says in a statement, “When the Coronation was broadcast in the U.S. in 1953, it was the first time the U.S. networks broadcast same-day coverage of European events, and it was watched by an immense audience. Now, this program sweeps aside the fictional dramas of more recent times and brings our viewers the definitive account of the Crown Jewels and their role in this ancient and remarkable event. This is a uniquely intimate portrait of the Coronation that is sure to create new levels of interest in America.”