Now that Meghan Markle is an official royal, she’s taking part in one of the royal family’s signature events: Trooping the Colour.
The centerpiece of London’s season of festivities is this Saturday, when the country honors Queen Elizabeth’s birthday with the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony – and it’s one of the most spectacular royal events of the year.
The grand military parade, which takes place in June in hopes of favorable weather – despite the fact that high temperatures often result in fainting spells for at least a few unlucky bear-fur-garbed guards – is a national statement of pageantry to celebrate each British monarch’s official birthday, although Her Majesty’s actual birth date is April 21.
The royal family typically turns out in full force – with the men bedecked in military medals and sashes and the women in fascinators – for the big day, including Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and now, the newest royal family member, Meghan. Scene-stealers Prince George and Princess Charlotte will also be there as the royal family makes their grand appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
With more than 1,400 officers, 400 musicians and 200 horses in tow, the Queen is paraded in a carriage from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade across St. James’s Park to inspect her troops, receive a royal salute and take a salute of her own.
Here are six must-know things about the gloriously British spectacle.
1. The royal men each have their own regiment – and the Queen is the colonel-in-chief.
The Queen’s House Cavalry consists of seven regiments, split into the Mounted Guards and the Foot Guards. During each Trooping the Colour ceremony, one from among the Foot Guard regiments takes its turn presenting its regimental colors down the ranks.
Historically, a regiment’s colors were used as a rallying point on the battlefield. During Trooping the Colour, the regiments carry the Queen’s colors – resplendent in crimson silk and a union flag design with a central gold circle bearing the regiment’s name – along with their own regimental colors.
Queen Elizabeth acts as the Colonel-in-Chief of the five Foot Guard regiments, and each has its own royal colonel representing it. Prince Philip serves as colonel of the Grenadier Guards, Prince Charles of the Welsh Guards, Prince William of the Irish Guards, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, of the Scots Guards and Lieutenant General Sir James Bucknall, a retired British army officer and the only non-royal among the ranks, as the Coldstream Guards.
2. The royal women ride in carriages – along with Prince Harry and Prince Philip.
After retiring her favorite parade horse, a black mare named Burmese, in 1986, the Queen decided to abandon her rough-riding side-saddle days in favor of a horse-drawn carriage. Popularly traveling in an Ascot Landau carriage flanked by senior members of the royal family – including Prince Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, on horseback – the Queen and Prince Philip head off the procession followed closely behind by other royals in similar carriages. In his usual charming fashion, Prince Harry can be seen cruising with the ladies (Princess Kate, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and now his new wife, Duchess Meghan).
3. The Buckingham Palace balcony is the ultimate VIP zone.
After the pomp and pageantry of the parade carries the Queen back to Buckingham Palace, she leads the royal family out onto the historic balcony for the final proceedings – and the day’s biggest photo-op. As military aircraft fly overhead, the Queen can be seen sharing the moment with her husband, children and grandchildren. Just like last year, Prince George and Princess Charlotte are sure to make a memorable appearance!
4. The fly-past is not to be missed.
Among the many privileges of being the Queen: the Royal Air Force puts on a sky show in your honor. After returning to Buckingham Palace, the monarch concludes her birthday fanfare with a fly-past consisting of more than 25 military aircraft soaring brilliantly over the palace in small formations 30 seconds apart. In recent years, the RAF featured 28 aircraft of 13 different types, including The Red Arrows, an aerobatic team that decorated the London skyline with red, white and blue smoke.
5. The Queen never skips a Trooping.
Talk about perfect attendance. Ever since she ascended the throne as Queen of Great Britain in 1952, Elizabeth has never missed a Trooping the Colour ceremony — save for in 1955 when the entire parade was canceled due to a national rail strike.’
6. The name dates back to the 17th Century.
The origins of the military parade date back to the 17th Century. “Colours” refers to the different flags that stood for the various regiments within the British Army. Each flag was different so that soldiers could easily spot their unit during battle. Officers would march in front of their troops (called “trooping”), waving the flags so everyone could see which flag belonged to which division.