If you are planning a trip to London in June, you will not want to miss one of the most esteemed military parades in the world. The Trooping of the Colour is a tradition that has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years. Many visitors to London are unaware of how easy it is to request a seat at this much-loved event. Our Taxi Guides tell you everything you need to know about this unmissable event and how you can make sure you can see this spectacular sight whilst you’re in town…
What is The Trooping of the Colour?
Trooping of the Colour is the Queen’s annual birthday military procession, a public celebration enjoyed by millions of people every June. Over 14,000 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians come together at London’s Horse Guards Parade in a superb display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark The Queen’s official birthday on 21st April.
- The guards which take part in the parade are from one of the oldest regiments of the British Army – the Household Division. They are basically the Queen’s bodyguards or personal troops and have been part of the monarchy since the English Civil War ended in 1660.
Why does The Queen have two birthdays?
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday twice simply because, April’s weather can be slightly unpredictable, too unpredictable to host a parade as grand as The Trooping of the Colour. On her Majesty’s actual birthday (21st April) there are usually a series of gun salutes around London that mark the occasion (a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London), other than that, the monarch celebrates her day privately. However, The Trooping of the Colour event, held this year on the 13th June 2020, is her Majesty’s chance to celebrate publicly.
- The two-birthday tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.
What does “trooping the colour” mean exactly?
Back in the 1700s, ‘Colours’ was the name given to the flags representing the different regiments in the British Army. The flags were all unique with different colours and symbols used for each regiment, so all the troops would recognise their banners during battle. Keeping an eye out for their own regiments colours was a way of keeping everyone together. Therefore, it was important that soldiers knew which colour belonged to which regiment. To really drill it home, officers would march up and down in front of the troops (hence the “trooping”), waving their flags (hence the “colours”). Each year at the Trooping of the Colour, a different regiment’s colours are trooped. For the 2019 celebrations, it was the colours of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, and in 2020, the colour will be trooped by 1st Battalion Welsh Guards.
What happens during The Trooping of the Colour?
The Queen will parade from Buckingham Palace, down the Mall to Horse Guard’s Parade alongside members of the Royal Family on horseback and in carriages. Once she arrives at Horse Guard’s Parade in Whitehall, she is greeted by royal salute and then carries out an inspection of her troops. The Queen has taken the salute every year of her reign except in 1955 when a national rail strike cancelled the event. Military bands perform and regiments ‘troop their flag’. It is a fantastic site to see with over one hundred words of command used by the Officer in Command of the Parade to direct several hundred soldiers. When the parade is over and the guards have marched passed the Queen, she rides back to Buckingham Palace. The display closes with a Royal Air Force (RAF) fly-past, watched by members of the Royal Family from Buckingham Palace balcony with millions of people gathering outside and all the way down the Mall. The fly-past and balcony scene are a very monumental, well known and loved moment by members of the public.
- The Queen used to attend the parade on horseback, but in recent years has attended by carriage. The Queen’s favourite horse was a beautiful mare called “Burmese”. She was a present from the Canadian Mounted Police and The Queen rode her for 18 consecutive ceremonies, until Burmese retired in 1986.
How can a member of the public get tickets to see The Trooping of the Colour?
To acquire a seated ticket for Trooping the Colour reviewed by HM The Queen herself on the 13th June at Horse Guards Parade you need to purchase by online ballot only. The online ballot will close on 2nd March 2020, with successful entries being selected and notified by 19th March 2020.
However, you are also able to buy tickets for the two rehearsal Trooping the Colour reviews (which are exactly the same as the one reviewed by HM The Queen on the 13th June except the Queen will not be at these rehearsals and there will be no RAF fly-past – they are also a fraction of the price). The details of these two reviews are:
Wheelchair (+ 1 companion): £5
Wheelchair (+ 1 companion): £10
If you don’t fancy buying tickets for the whole show, you will be able to enjoy the procession as the Queen and her troops travel along The Mall on their way to the parade ground. Stand along The Mall or on the edge of St James’s Park overlooking Horse Guards from 9.00am. The Parade begins officially at 10.00am and finishes by 12.30pm. On the day of The Queen’s Birthday Parade (13th June), the fly-past by the Royal Air Force takes place at 1.00pm and can be watched from The Mall.
Of course, you can always watch the whole thing from the comfort of your sofa as it is broadcast live on the BBC in the UK on the 13th June 2020!
- At the 1981 ceremony blanks were fired from a starting pistol by a youth who claimed he wanted to be famous. Although the Queen’s horse ‘Burmese; was startled, the queen (being an excellent horsewoman) swiftly brought her loyal friend back under control and carried on. Burmese was not replaced after she retired and ever since The Queen has travelled by horse drawn carriage.
If you are planning to visit, we hope you enjoy the show – you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget, if you would like to make a day of it, one of our Taxi Guides would love to show you some of the other sights London has to offer while you are in town. We can organise a bespoke tour depending on what you want to see or check out some of our London day tours for some inspiration.