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Queen's Maids of Honour recreate iconic Coronation photograph

03 JUNE 2013

It was the photograph that best captured the glamour and youth of a reign that has so far spanned some sixty years.

Having been crowned Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey earlier in the day, the 27-year-old sovereign posed for a remarkable picture flanked by her six Maids of Honour, all young women from leading aristocratic families.

The official photographer on the occasion was the celebrated Cecil Beaton — although he was not everyone's first choice.

"The Duke of Edinburgh wanted Baron (the Court Photographer) to take the photographs as he was a good friend", explains one of the maids, Lady Anne Glenconner, 80, who returned with the other five maids to the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace at the behest of The One Show to recreate that historic image and to mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation.

 

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"But the Queen Mother adored Cecil and said he should take them. When we got started, the Duke of Edinburgh was suggesting that we should sit here and there and Cecil was getting more and more irritated behind the camera. Eventually he said: 'Would you like to take them, Sir?' And then the Duke of Edinburgh backed off."

Sadly, the Queen is missing from the new image but all six maids will be reunited with her when they attend a service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 4th June.

"It was overwhelming and moving – especially during the anointing" recalls Lady Mary Russell, 79, of the day. "Of all the girls our age in the country we six girls were chosen to carry the Queen's train and that meant a great deal."

Nonetheless, it was a tiring event, during which Lady Glenconner nearly fainted. "Black Rod pinioned me against a pillar with his arm. I was determined not to go down. During the recess, the Archbishop of Canterbury produced a flask of brandy and asked if anyone needed a nip. It was very reviving."

 

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Meanwhile, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, 78, reveals, "It was hard work moving the train – like moving a carpet."

The significance of the event however, was not lost of the young women, who were, like the Queen, all wearing gowns by Sir Norman Hartnell. Aged between 18 to 23, they were described by Cecil as the Queen's "retinue of white, lily-like ladies."

The original photograph, as well as other memorabilia from the day, including the dress prototype worn by the maids, will be part of an exhibition, The Queen’s Coronation 1953 which runs from 27th July 2013 – 29th September 2013 at Buckingham Palace.

Lady Glenconner, the daughter of the Earl of Leicester, says they were the "Spice Girls" of their time, such was the excitement surrounding them in the months leading up to the big day.

"Many people say to me, 'I suppose your wedding day was the most unforgettable day of your life?'. But I always reply, 'No, it wasn't. The day of the Coronation was."

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