Inauguration vs. Diamond Jubilee

Maclean’s Royal watcher was on hand for a little U.S. pomp and circumstance
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama waves as they walk in the Inaugural Parade during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Being really, really close to the platform at the Capitol as President Barack Obama was sworn in was certainly a moving event. It’s also quite familiar to someone who follows the royal family closely. As I tweeted, “It’s really the U.S. version of the Diamond Jubilee service: pomp, military precision, stirring music, good sermon and it’s over in an hour.”

Going head-of-state to head-of-state, how do the big ceremonies compare?

Pomp: The Marines are impressive, the venue in Washington is spectacular, but when it comes to making a spectacle (in a good way), no one does it better than the British. The entire four-day weekend was organized to an inch of its life, and pulled off superbly. The Household Calvary riding down the Mall in London is a sight nearly impossible to beat. Winner: The Queen

Timing: Both the main swearing in ceremony in Washington and the service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral took just over an hour each. Never drag out blockbusters, a maxim that Steven Spielberg would do well to remember. Winner: Tie

Parade: Both have parades through downtown streets lined 10 or 20 deep. While the regal one was stingy, having only two carriages filled with senior royals, the inaugural parade is a huge celebration of the entire nation with floats, marching bands and even ballerinas dancing. Winner: Barack Obama

Speech: Well, the Queen doesn’t talk for an event celebrating her own 60 years of service, that’s for others. And while Rowan Williams, the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury gives a good sermon, he doesn’t come close to the master orator from Illinois. Winner: Barack Obama

Crowds: While the last day of the Diamond Jubilee weekend saw more than a million people hit the streets (and there were millions more for festivities on the other three days), Obama got just 700,000. Winner: the Queen

Military: Formal uniforms abound in London and Washington. Both venues have war-hardened troops acting as ushers. But the Queen gets her own Household Division to line the parade route. Winner: the Queen

Viewing opportunities: The Queen may be 86 but she knows seeing is believing. Hundreds of thousands crowded in front of Buckingham Palace to see her on the balcony. Unfortunately, security concerns limit exposure to Barack Obama to a select view, leaving the rest to watch on big screens. Winner: the Queen

Security: Wow, not even close. Everyone just shows up in London to line the streets. In Washington, spectators watching the parade all first passed through intense screening. Winner (if you can call it that): Barack Obama

Side events: The Queen had the Thames River pageant that saw 1,000-odd boats cruise in formation, a huge concert carried live on TV plus another few hundred thousand take part in street parties across the country. In the United States, the festivities are concentrated in Washington. There are 60-plus balls, countless dozen parties of all shapes and sizes. For the one at the Canadian Embassy, Chris Hatfield recorded a special message from outer space. Winner: the Queen

Transport: Sure he’s got a bulletproof car, but it’s nearly impossible to see the occupants. The Queen has big, specially lighted cars and open carriages. Winner: the Queen

Familial entourages: OK, William and Harry are cute and Kate is pretty. But Charles and Camilla are sandwich generation fodder—enough said. In contrast, Michelle, Sacha and Malia are all amazingly attractive and personable. Bonus points for their fashion taste. Winner: Barack Obama

Music: Barack Obama gets Beyonce and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, while the Queen got the choirs of St. Paul’s and the Chapels Royal plus an all-star line up the night before including Sir Paul McCartney and Jessie J. Winner: Tie

Clothes: Obama wore a plain suit and coat, the Queen wore a mint, crystal-studded outfit onto which she pinned a two-stone brooch containing 156 carats of diamonds. Winner: the Queen