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The Pride, The Passion and The Phoenix Flies High.

TheThamesJubilee Pageant.

I want to get one thing absolutely clear at the very start. You have been deluged with saturation level coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, and I do not intend to continue talking about Her Majesty, her life or her delightful grand-daughter-in-law unless absolutely necessary.

What I will talk about is a river level view of the mighty procession that took place on the soggy 3rd of June. This is a tale of atmosphere, celeb spotting (standard 20 metre radius rules apply) and something that was ‘not a race’ – though we did want to win it.

What you may like to hear about is what it is like to be part of the mighty procession that took place on the soggy 3rd of June.   An event like this, from the participant’s point of view is going to be about organisation and patience. Though most of all, when gathering 15 dragon boat teams (basically water sports equivalent of rugby players) in one place and telling them ‘it’s not a race’, it was about an extraordinary level of discipline.

After a damp walk from Chiswick to the Putney Embankment, we found a modest gazebo next to the phalanx of Dragon Boats (and more importantly ours) ready to be dressed and prepared, which was populated by Sky News. This is relevant as we were going through the normal routine, first big Pete was interviewed by Kay Burleigh and Emily was asked to show Kay ‘how the drum worked’ – something that clearly needs explaining.  As we continued, Sky filmed our warm-up (honourable mention to young Joseph, who joined in –a future Dragon Boater without doubt), plonked down Mayor of London Boris Johnson in our boat to interview him, and then continued to film us loading.

Celeb Spotting Status

 

Kay Burliegh: Steady straight down the middle news reporting - 5/10

Boris Johnson: Recently re-elected Mayor of London and British hairdressing icon – 9/10

A crowd had gathered as the participants prepared and started to load with the jump in atmosphere, as our neighbours and friends Worcester Busters became the first boat to start to load, becoming absolutely palpable, and the murmur grew into a real buzz of excitement.  It is once on the water that the situation began to dawn on the crews, and the patience started to kick in.  When you have 1,000 boats to muster, there is a lot of waiting to do.

We waited half an hour post-loading to get moving. We then concertinaed our way up to the start at Battersea Bridge. What made this fun was the thick crowd lining the sides of the river and the bridges before the pageant had even started, which added to a sense of occasion really gaining momentum.

The pageant was started by the Princess Elizabeth steam locomotive, onBaterseaBridgeas the Britannia Launch took the royal party to the Spirit of Chartwell Royal Barge. The massed ranks of the manpowered squadron (I will not be getting bored of that any time soon incidentally) then proceeded slowly, and patiently, up towards the Royal Barge, where they slowly bobbed past, some with a closer view of the Royal party than others. Though it was still good fun, as most of us have never seen the Queen before.

Royal Celeb Spotting Status

Do not qualify – Most famous person in the world, but too far away to count. Also expecting to see them there sort of takes the shine off a ‘spot’. Hey ho – onwards celeb spotters.

 

The pageant itself was more challenging than you would expect it to be. A Dragon Boat is a racing vessel, and its design lends itself to cutting through the water in a rapier like fashion and as such keeping down to the pageant speed limit of 4 knots involved a very slow stroke, which set fire to shoulders and backs alike.

It was an awfully good way to see the City however, as we scooted past the mighty edifice of Battersea Power Station and the ram jammed banks of shouting people, with other spectators crowding onto the balconies of the many large modern apartment blocks that seem to litter the Thames these days.

What you also saw were a large selection of passenger boats displaying a truly alarming level of list as people all leaned over to the river side of their boat to watch the manpowered boats paddled and rowed by. On the note of passenger boats with parties on board:

Celeb Spotting Status

 

Pippa Middleton – Topical Women’s Mag appearee (whether she likes it or not) and gentleman’s favourite: 8/10

 

 

William Hague - Foreign Secretary – That’s properly important, you know: 8/10.

  

The rest of the trip up the river was fairly similar, passing a selection of London landmarks, firstly the Palace of Westminster and London Eye (being kept company all the time by the endlessly chipper Busters), as the formation started to break up, and the surrounding vessels became more varied. The regiment of Dragon Boats had dispersed, though the odd friendly face could be glimpsed between what was now a forest of kayaks, skiffs, whalers, rowing 4s, outrigger canoes and the Maori War Canoe.

As we headed down the route through The City and towardTowerBridge, the river became more and more congested and the crowds on the banks became thicker and even more vocal.  This seems a good time to doff cap to John on the helm, as this was not getting any easier, and we narrowly grazed a couple of boats as we navigated through gaps 1 dragon boat wide…just. This involved a close encounter with one boat containing:

Celeb Spotting Status

 

Ben Fogle – Mild mannered middle class TV enduro man: 7/10

Helen Skelton – Kids TV presenter and ‘ard as nails northern bird: 6/10

 

Under Tower Bridge marked the official end of the pageant but not the end of the crowds, and it presented an opportunity for the Dragon Boat crews to indulge their naturally playful disposition. The Royal row barge Gloriana was being reeled in, and with photo opportunities beckoning, Phoenix pulled the boat level.

Celeb Spotting Status

 

Sir Steven Redgrave – Rowing Gold in 5 consecutive Olympic games, in short Mr Olympics GB: 10/10 (Captaining Gloriana)

(Sir Matthew Pinsent, winner of Gold at 4 games was next to him, but we didn’t see him – so it is a big fat DNQ there I am afraid).

 

The thing is, we had been operating on a very low stroke rate, and it was putting strain on joints and muscles. We also thought it may be quite nice to lead the pageant briefly (even if in the dispersal zone), so we decided to stretch it out a bit…and it felt quite good to be able to open our shoulders, and then we saw some other Dragon Boats, and a brace of rowing 4’s, and well, we just got a shade carried away (we are informed that as the cheekily disposed Dragon Boats began haranguing the Gloriana, Sir Steve tried to respond with a lift, so if you think about it, it’s all his fault m’lud). 

With the crowd slowly thinning, Pershore really opened up, moving up to a 75-90% race rate (after 4 hours of paddling) and in the pouring rain dispatched the most competitive/childish boats that tried to stay with us in order to lead the entire flotilla towards the docklands, and be the first boat to come into (a very distant) view of the masses in Greenwich, where our 5 hour, 12.5 mile adventure came to its soggy conclusion.

I know this is dragging on a shade, so I will try and wrap this up on an uncharacteristic note of seriousness. I am known to be occasionally cynical about this sort of grand event, and whilst I believe the Royal family has its place in the grand scheme, I wouldn’t describe myself as a monarchist.  But the day’s events can probably be best described as a lightning rod for the collective goodwill of the nation. From the million plus crowd all cheering and waving, lining some 20 miles of river bank, bridges, boats and balconies of countless apartments to the endless stream of people wanting to talk to me (kitted and paddle in hand) on the tube going home because I was involved, to wee Joseph. It was all profoundly cheering.  Uplifting stuff – and you cannot genuinely say that so often.

(Incidentally, scores on the doors are 53/70 celeb spotters – I’d call that a solid B+. Stay vigilant.)  

ALI

Pageant Champion 2

 

 

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