LONDON (AP) – Tonga’s chief diplomat in the United Kingdom was thinking about two monarchs last weekend as Britain and the Commonwealth celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
There is Elizabeth, of course, who celebrated 70 years on the throne with four days of parades and pageantry. But High Commissioner Titilupe Fanetupouvava’u Tu’ivakano also remember her great-grandmother Queen Salote Tupou III, who endeared herself to Britons as she rode through the streets of London in an open carriage during Elizabeth’s coronation parade in 1953.
Despite pouring rain, Queen Salote refused to close the top as a sign of respect for the new monarch, drawing cheers from the revellers lining the streets.
“Every single Tongan knows about that experience,” Tu’ivakano told The Associated Press. “I even have some individuals walking up to me (in London) and asking me, ‘Are you Tongan?’ These are ladies who were there 70 years ago. They still remember what happened.’’
Tonga is an example of how Britain’s relationship with the world has changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
The archipelago of 170 islands in the South Pacific was a British protectorate at the time of the coronation. It became fully independent in 1970 and joined the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries that grew out of the British Empire and is headed by Elizabeth.
Britain worked closely with Australia and New Zealand, two other Commonwealth nations, to provide aid to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami devastated the islands earlier this year. Queen Salote was just 18 when she came to the throne in 1918. She is credited with laying the groundwork for independence, though she died in 1965 before seeing it become reality.
Her actions at the coronation helped cement the links between the two countries, the diplomat said.
“There were crowds and crowds of people who witnessed this auspicious occasion and this sign of traditional Tongan respect which was passed down among generations,” she said.
“I think this has, in a sense, not only reflected the relationship between the United Kingdom and Tonga but also among the people of the United Kingdom that were there and also the people of Tonga.”
One of those who witnessed the event was David Hodge, a young soldier who marched in the parade. Fresh from a posting in what was then known as Malaya, Hodge’s unit of the Somerset Light Infantry was positioned right behind the Tongan monarch’s carriage.
“The crowd loved her sitting in an open carriage taking absolutely no notice of the weather and with a wonderful smile on her face the whole time,’’ Hodge wrote on the 40th anniversary of the coronation in 1993. “Her happiness summed up the whole day for a great many people that day.’’
Hodge died in 2013. But his daughter Susan Duddridge danced in yesterday’s jubilee pageant, providing a direct link between the coronation parade and this weekend’s celebrations.
She thought of her dad as she joined 10,000 performers for the procession that ended outside Buckingham Palace.
“My dad was very proud when he was chosen to march at the coronation, so to have the opportunity to walk in his footsteps is amazing,” she said. “And I am equally as proud to be part of this amazing day.’’
The build up to the jubilee has also been a time of reflection for Tonga’s high commissioner, who has small etching of Queen Elizabeth II on her desk and an immense black and white photograph of her great-grandmother on her office wall.
Tu’ivakano sees similarities between the two queens from opposite sides of the world. Both were crowned at a young age and took their places in a male dominated world. Yet both became iconic in their own right and hold respect that transcends generations.
As she takes Queen Salote’s picture off the wall to pose for a photograph, Tu’ivakano gently touches the edge of the frame, handling it with great care. It is almost as if the queen’s spirit is not far.