London (CNN) – This weekend, millions in towns and cities across the United Kingdom will mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign.
In London, her Platinum Jubilee is being celebrated with an array of events, from a parade to a flypast and a star-studded party at Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, neighborhoods across the capital decked out in Union Jacks and red, white and blue bunting are hosting more than 3,000 street parties and readying feasts of coronation chicken sandwiches and trifles.
But as crowds flock to the capital, some young Britons are actively avoiding the festivities. Many are indifferent to, others irritated by, all the pomp and ceremony for a person and institution they say has no place in their lives. They cite everything from colonialism to the lack of diversity as reasons why they won’t be out in the crowds of royal revelers this weekend.
“I’m sick of it. I’m currently in the middle of packing to go to Italy,” Joss MacDonald told CNN on Tuesday from his home in the London borough of Hackney, where nearly 50 street parties have been organized this weekend.
MacDonald said he would travel to Italy the following day — in time to mark its Republic Day, the June 2 anniversary of the post-World War II referendum that saw the country abolish its monarchy in 1946. MacDonald said it was a “fortuitous coincidence,” which he would take advantage of by joining Italians in their celebrations and partying in the streets of Sicily, before spending the rest of his holiday in the sun with his partner.
MacDonald said that his childhood wasn’t filled with memories of the Queen and his family were far from “royalists.” But his mum is still going to a jubilee gathering on their street, he said, “mostly because it’s a good excuse for a party.”
Like many other young Britons, MacDonald said that the monarchy, whose wealth and power is linked to a legacy of British colonialism, has failed to modernize and is disconnected from today’s multicultural Britain. The 29-year-old ceramicist said he thought the royal family with “its history of militarism and imperialism” was undemocratic and should be abolished — not celebrated in a four-day jubilee holiday across the UK.
“I won’t begrudge people a good time. I think the opportunity to have a big national celebration is great, but it’s such a shame that it has to be for this institution,” he added.
Polling suggests attitudes towards the royal family among young people in Britain have shifted since 2019, the year after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding — a union which raised hopes that they would reshape the royal family in their own contemporary and inclusive image. Polling by YouGov in 2019 indicated that 46 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds thought the monarchy should continue, while 26 percent said the country should have an elected head of state and 28 percent were unsure.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced in January 2020 that they were “stepping back” from their roles as senior royals and in February 2021 the palace confirmed that they would not be returning as working members of the British royal family. Polling conducted by YouGov from March to May 2021 showed that 31 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed said they wanted to see the monarchy continue, while 41 percent believed that Britain should have an elected head of state and 28 percent were undecided.
Ahead of the Platinum Jubilee, CNN spoke to several Britons under 30 living across London — the epicenter of festivities — about their views.
Josie Watson, 25, won’t be tuning in to watch the £15 million ($19 million) privately-funded “People’s Pageant” festival on Saturday night, which will feature — among other things — a 20-foot tall puppet of the Queen as a princess with an entourage of corgi puppets, a dancing wedding cake, and singer Ed Sheeran. Instead, the highlight of her weekend will be going to see Abba Voyage, a concert performed by holographic apparitions of the Swedish pop band, with her mum.
Watson said she is apathetic about the jubilee because she “doesn’t see the point in celebrating someone who was just born into a family and assigned a role.”
The tech journalist lives in Ealing, a district in west London, where 154 street parties will be hosted by residents — among the most to be held in any London borough this weekend.
Despite having grown up in a family that is pro-monarchy, Watson believes that “young people disconnect with the royal family because we’ve never lived at a time where their leadership has meant much.” They served their purpose to provide “patriotism and leadership” during wartime but now “priorities have shifted,” she added.
Robert Hazell, professor of government and the constitution at University College London and co-editor of “The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy: European Monarchies Compared,” told CNN there are many possible reasons for the apparent shift in attitudes towards the British monarchy among a younger generation of Britons.
“We have an aging monarch. It’s difficult for young people to identify with someone who’s very old,” Hazell said. But with Prince William and Catherine doing more public engagements with their children, he expects interest to rise again as Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis eventually become teenagers.
But for Watson, age isn’t the issue. “We just don’t see enough of ourselves in them,” she said.
Pakistani-British freelance journalist Asiya Istikhar, 22, said that she felt a shift in the way ethnic minorities related to the royal family when biracial American actress Meghan Markle arrived on the scene. When Istikhar was growing up, it became a ritual in her family to occasionally watch royal events, especially for her mother, who loved Princess Diana, but she herself was never that interested.
It wasn’t until Prince Harry and Meghan’s relationship that she felt at all excited by the royals, she said. But that excitement quickly turned to horror when she saw how Meghan was covered by British tabloids. “For many, many weeks at a time, you would just be picking up a newspaper or seeing multiple articles online that were just ruthlessly destroying Meghan,” she said.
Harry spoke openly about the racial abuse Meghan faced from elements of the press in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, saying that it hurt him that no one in his family ever said anything or showed “public support” for his wife in response.
Istikhar said this reported lack of support for Meghan from the royal family hasn’t instilled much hope among young people — particularly people of color — that the monarchy can change.
Istikhar plans to head to her family home in Birmingham in a “purposely orchestrated” move to avoid the big celebration — and the 101 street parties that will be taking place in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, where she lives, because she has no interest in celebrating the “70-year reign of an unelected monarch.”
Meanwhile, Roisin Conneely, a 26-year-old digital communications professional, has grand plans for her weekend — spending it at her home in Redbridge, in east London, binge-watching the latest season of “Stranger Things.”
“I couldn’t care less,” she said of the jubilee.
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