Find out what goes into the annual Trooping the Colour parade for the Queen, and how last year’s scaled-back version came together

By Simon Perry
June 09, 2021 10:49 AM
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Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Princess Beatrice, Lady Louise Windsor, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, Savannah Phillips, Prince George of Cambridge and Isla Phillips
Trooping the Colour 2018
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Ever wondered what one of Queen Elizabeth's favorite moments is during her official birthday parade, Trooping the Colour?

It comes when the bands performs "Les Huguenots" (the traditional musical starting point for Trooping the Colour) and a Quick March (15 paces per minute) that was selected by the band of whichever regiment is leading the parade that year.

The event typically takes place in London at Buckingham Palace each June. But this year's event will take place on Saturday at Windsor Castle without public fanfare due to restrictions surrounding the pandemic.

Andrew Stokes, who as Garrison Sergeant Major of London has organized six Trooping the Colour parades for the Queen, tells PEOPLE, "I have the privileged position of being stood immediately behind Her Majesty at this point and it is quite clear that [she] enjoys this particular sequence of the parade. I have unforgettable memories of seeing see Her Majesty foot-tapping to these memorable tunes."

queen elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth at Trooping the Colour 2020
| Credit: Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage

Trooping the Colour, the official tribute by the army to their ultimate commander, the Sovereign, takes place every June - usually at Horse Guards Parade in London, followed by a flypast over the balcony at Buckingham Palace. But just like last year, this year's event has to be scaled back and held at Windsor Castle due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Stokes, who is the senior enlisted soldier in the Household Division and has served in the British Army for 33 years, has been in three parades and laid out the meticulous details for the parade for six years.

Garrison Sergeant Major WO1 Andrew Stokes
Credit: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

Last year was "a challenge" he says, as they had to stick to the six-feet social distancing rule.

"We used a combination of pragmatism, relevance and precedence to compromise, and accepted that it just isn't possible to conduct State Ceremonial Events on the scale that we were used to, but we could still deliver it to the highest standard and it could also be an accurate representation on what we would normally conduct," he says.

"So that was what we did, tried to keep in some key aspects of what happens on Horse Guards and focus on delivering that to an excellent standard. This year we will do the same, however with the lessons we learned last year it should be possible to increase the scale of the event," he continues.

To read about a Day in the Life of a Guardsman at Trooping the Colour, pick up a copy of the latest PEOPLE Royals Summer issue, out Friday, June 11

Garrison Sergeant Major WO1 Andrew Stokes
GSM Andrew Stokes
| Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

But it did have a unique and memorable quality, he adds.

"It demonstrated the utility and flexibility of the Foot Guards. Only weeks before, those soldiers who took part were supporting the nation's determined effort to defeat the pandemic, highlighting the dual role capability. One week they were conducting mass testing and the next they were delivering a parade at Windsor Castle to the highest standard for Her Majesty The Queen - and on live TV to an audience of over 5 million," he proudly states. "The standard was superb and received many compliments. That and also that the event was making history."

Last year was only the third Trooping the Colour to be held at Windsor Castle on record. (The previous one was in 1895 for Queen Victoria.) This year, the Queen will be accompanied by her cousin the Duke of Kent as the Scots Guards lead the parade. Saturday's event marks her first Trooping the Colour since the death of her beloved husband, Prince Philip.

The soldiers taking part in the parade on Saturday (and their commanders!) will be hoping that no one faints in the early summer sun. Fainting guardsmen have been a common occurrence in years past. Stokes recommends not having too much water before the parade as soldiers, in usual circumstances, can be on parade for up to five hours, and "what goes in must come out," he says. "Preparation begins days before and hydration is a discipline conducted over a number of days and not the morning of the event."

Trooping The Colour
Trooping the Colour 2019
| Credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

The experienced soldier says that remaining alert is a "difficult skill to master," but adds, "The progressive rehearsal schedule for this event allows the Guardsmen to understand the intricacies of the parade and to anticipate the sequence of events, they also understand the music, the significance of each tune and why it has been selected and there are a few tricks of the trade to keep the blood moving around the body."

"The soldiers on parade are all in peak physical condition, that helps and together with keeping the body well hydrated (preparation for which begins days before) reduces the risk of fainting," he says, adding that the date in June is selected because it is usually a hot summer day. "Wearing a uniform as heavy as this can of course be a disadvantage and if you are destined to faint no amount of preparation will stop this."

The army HQ has set up a study to understand why fainting happens and why some are more susceptible than others.

The parade is based on the historical use of a "colour" or flag (usually decorated with emblems signifying the regiment's honors and achievements) as a rallying point on the field of battle. The symbolic event was then adopted for the parade, delivered by troops of the Household Division, Stokes explains, adding: "It is a birthday greeting on behalf of the Nation by the Monarch closest and trusted soldiers."

Prince Louis, Prince George, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Savannah Phillips, Isla Phillips and Autumn Phillips
Trooping The Colour 2019
| Credit: James Devaney/Getty Images

It is significant he says, because it doesn't just help deliver birthday wishes to the monarch, but underlines the unique link that the Household Division enjoys with the royal family, and strategically it demonstrates the unique culture of the United Kingdom.

Stokes says, "Watched globally, in particular throughout the Commonwealth, it is also a visible demonstration of the Union and unites our great country in a celebration each year."

Usually, the whole extended family is there and appears on the palace balcony for the flypast alongside the Queen.

"It is the rare moment each year that all members of the royal family publicly come together in celebration of Her Majesty's official birthday. Tactically, it is hugely significant in developing the morale component of those soldiers on parade, supported by family members in the crowd sharing the pride that each soldier feels whilst on parade and whilst doing their duty," he says.