The Queen we haven’t seen before
QUEEN Elizabeth has given her first detailed account of her coronation almost 65 years ago, joking that the crown was so heavy it could have broken her neck, while footage has been released of her children, young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, playing under her elaborate coronation robes.
In a very rare TV appearance, a wry and relaxed Queen Elizabeth chatted with royal commentator Alastair Bruce about the moment on June 2, 1953, she became sovereign, 16 months after her father, King George VI, had died.
The 91-year-old monarch revealed that the ride through the streets of London and from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey was "horrible'' due to the poor suspension in the solid-gold, horse-drawn carriage, and that her ceremonial gowns were so heavy she became stuck and could not move forwards when they dragged against the pile of the carpet in the Abbey.
The Queen witnessed her own father's coronation as a child in 1937, and looking back on the solemn, three-hour ceremonies with their 1000-year-old rituals, she comments: "It's the sort of, I suppose, the beginning of one's life really as a sovereign.
"It is sort of a pageant of chivalry and old-fashioned way of doing things, really. I've seen one coronation and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable."
The Queen's appearance on the BB1 show The Coronation, which has just gone to air in the UK and will be replayed in Australia in February, is part of a wider series on the Crown jewels, including those used in the elaborate crowns the sovereigns wear during their coronations.
The Queen, who has never done a sit-down media interview but occasionally takes part in "conversations'' on specific issues for documentaries, received widespread praise for her good-humoured approach and witty, honest answers about the coronation, which was broadcast on TV to 300 million viewers and was the world's first globally-televised event.
It was the first time she had spoken on camera about her coronation, and was reunited with the crown she has only ever worn once, St Edward's Crown, which was placed on her head at the precise moment of the coronation. She was 27 years old at the time.
The documentary showed the Queen handling the better-known Imperial State Crown.
While a white-gloved crown jeweller handled it carefully, a smiling Queen grabbed it with her bare hands, and turned it around, touching the many diamonds and commenting that the pearls hanging from the top "don't look very happy … the trouble is, pearls are sort of live things and they need warming.''
The Queen wears the Imperial State Crown, the crown she wore as she left the Abbey, when she delivers her speeches at the state openings of Parliament at the Palaces of Westminster.
The elaborate, diamond and jewel encrusted crown weighs 1.2kg, and the Queen joked it could break her neck.
Her father wore the same crown.
"Fortunately, my father and I have about the same sort of shaped head. But once you put it on, it stays. I mean, it just remains on," she said.
"You can't look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up. Because if you did your neck would break, it would fall off.
"So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they're quite important things."
Enormous planning had gone into the coronation in the 16 months between King George's death and his daughter formally ascending the throne (she became Queen immediately after he died), with Westminster Abbey closed for six months to allow building works to seat the 8000 guests and participants.
There were numerous dress rehearsals and the Queen herself made several visits to Westminster Abbey to practice in secret.
But despite the rigorous planning, events did not always go according to plan, with the show revealing several secreted packs of sandwiches had fallen out of coronets, the small crowns worn by lesser nobility, as they put them on.
Behind-the-scenes footage shows Prince Charles, 4, and Princess Anne, 2, ignoring the formality of the occasion and playing under their mother's gown as they arrived back at Buckingham Palace.
"Not what they're meant to do," the Queen comments with a smile.
It was also revealed the Queen was anointed with a 17th century sacred oil, made from orange flowers, jasmine, sesame seed, olive oil, roses, musk, civet and ambergris, which is stored in a flask at Westminster Abbey.
The program also confirmed the Crown jewels were taken from the Tower of London and hidden under Windsor Castle to keep them out of Nazi hands in the 1940s. They were buried deep under the castle and accessed through a medieval tunnel.
Some key jewels were prised out of their settings and hidden in a biscuit tin, in case the Nazis closed in.
The Queen ruminates on some of the more extraordinary diamonds, the Cullinan I, which is in the royal sceptre, and the Cullinan II, embedded in the Imperial State Crown.
The Cullinan 1 is the largest flawless diamond in the world, and the pair were cut from the enormous Star of Africa, which was broken into several extraordinary stones.
"I always wish I'd been there when they smashed it,'' the Queen said, fumbling at a large diamond brooch on her dress.
"These are the chips that were left.''
Watching black-and-white vision of the coronation - which she has never seen - the Queen comments dryly that there was "an awful lot of walking backwards.''
When Mr Bruce remarks that it is like a ballet, with everyone knowing where to move, the Queen responds "well they jolly well ought to'' after all the rehearsals.
Told that two of the bishop who assisted her onto a platform after the moment of coronation were theoretically there to take the weight of the crown, she replies: "Really? I thought they were there just to hold one's clothes.''