Trooping the Colour explained: the history, the fashion, the photos and the highlights

The parade marks the Queen's official birthday

Trooping the Colour is a huge occasion on the royal calendar each year and a highlight for HELLO! - with the Queen and the royals out in force on the Buckingham palace balcony, mischievous royal children and some of the best fashion on display. 

It's a public celebration which marks the monarch's official birthday, but this year sadly, things will be a little different again due to the pandemic. 

READ: When royals make their debuts at the Queen's birthday parade

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WATCH: Prince Louis waves from the balcony at Trooping the Colour debut

While Saturday's affair won't feature the usual pomp and ceremony we're used to, there are lots of highlights and memories from Trooping the Colour in previous years. 

First things first though, why does the Queen celebrate her birthday twice?

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

Her Majesty celebrates two birthdays: her actual birthday on 21 April and her official birthday on the second Saturday of June at Trooping the Colour – but why?

Historically, official celebrations to mark a sovereign's birthday have often been held on a day other than their birthday. This is usually true when their actual birthday does not land in the summer months. The reason, in typical British fashion, comes down to the weather.

The tradition started in 1748 with George II, who was born in chilly November. Instead of risking his subjects catching a cold, he combined his birthday celebration with the annual spring parade known as Trooping the Colour.

What is Trooping the Colour?

Over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians come together each June in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark the Queen's official birthday.

MORE: Royally stylish: Duchess Kate's best Trooping The Colour outfits since 2011

MORE: 9 cheekiest balcony moments from royal children at Buckingham Palace


Crowds line the street to see the parade 

The streets are lined with crowds waving flags as the parade moves from Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to Horse Guard's Parade, alongside members of the royal family on horseback and in carriages.

The Queen used to ride horseback, but since 1986, she has travelled in a carriage.

Shutterstock's royal photographer Tim Rooke, who have been capturing the royals for over 25 years, says he captured some of the "nicest family photos" at the 2019 ceremony, where Prince Louis made his adorable debut.


Louis and Charlotte wave at the windows of Buckingham Palace. Credit: Tim Rooke

He's even managed to capture some incredible off-duty photos of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Louis with their royal nanny before the Queen and her family assemble on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. 

He says: "Some of the kids were in the window of Buckingham Palace waiting with their nanny, watching as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came back, so that made some quite fun pictures, and then once they're back, then they all come out on the balcony, so it made some very nice family pictures."


All eyes were on the Cambridges in 2019. Credit: Tim Rooke

What is the history behind Trooping the Colour?

According to the Household Division, the British Army's regimental flags were historically described as 'colours' because they display the uniform and insignia of the soldiers from different military units

The army used these flags so that soldiers could easily spot their unit when they were on the battlefield, because it used to be quite easy to get lost in battle. 

Officers would regularly march up and down in front of soliders, known as 'trooping,' with their flags on displays, known as 'colours' so that everyone would know which ones would belong to which regiment. 

MORE: The Queen receives incredibly poignant gift to mark Prince Philip's 100th birthday


The Queen reviewing the troops with Prince Philip in 2012. Credit: Tim Rooke

The royals have mostly stuck to tradition when it comes to the format of the ceremony. Tim says: "What used to happen was the Queen would go down to Horseguards Parade and then the other members of the royal family would come back and go into the palace and the Queen would stand outside the gates of the palace and review the soldiers as they marched past, and the Duke of Edinburgh would stand next to her."

While the press pack of photographers take up their official position on the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, Tim reveals there's also another key spot to capture the royals.

He tells HELLO!: "One of the nicest pictures that you can get is if you stand on The Mall outside Clarence House because all the staff come out and wait outside. When the carriages come from the palace, there's interaction between the members of the royal family between staff and friends, who stand outside Clarence House, so actually that makes a better picture than the official position."

Who attends Trooping the Colour?

Immediate members of Her Majesty's family attend, including her four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, and their respective spouses, as well as most of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In recent years, we've seen Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, make their debuts at the event, alongside their cousins, Savannah and Isla Phillips.

MORE: 12 times the Queen left the royal family in giggles


George and Savannah's cheeky antics in 2018

George and Savannah had one of the most memorable moments at Trooping the Colour in 2018 when Savannah put her hand over her cousin's mouth to stop him singing. 

With the eyes of the world upon them, the royal children have proved they're just like any other kids with their cheeky antics and their awe-struck expressions during the fly-past.

What do the royals wear to Trooping the Colour?

Fashion is always a talking point of any major royal event and the Duchess of Cambridge often turns to her go-to designer, Alexander McQueen, for her outfits, beginning with a cream ruffled ensemble for her debut at the event in 2011.


Kate in McQueen and Meghan wearing Carolina Herrera

The Duchess of Sussex has appeared at the ceremony twice, opting for a stunning blush pink off-the-shoulder dress from Carolina Herrera in 2018 and a navy and white number, designed by her wedding dress designer, Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy in 2019.

The royal children's outfits also get plenty of attention, with Kate and the Countess of Wessex turning to traditional labels such as British brand, Rachel Riley, for outfits for their little ones.  

Lady Louise Windsor has been seen in several of Rachel Riley's classic pieces at Trooping the Colour over the years, including a mauve and yellow printed dress with a Peter Pan collar under a matching scalloped cardigan in 2012.


Lady Louise Windsor wearing Rachel Riley in 2012

"It makes me feel really proud, I'm a small business owner and it makes me feel part of British history," Rachel tells HELLO!

"On those formal occasions like when the royal family are on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, I think it's important to make sure their children are wearing timeless and classic designs that really won't show their age in future and in photographs that won't represent a specific time."

Throughout the decades, the royals have been known to borrow their siblings' clothes or pass down outfits from generation to generation; in the case of Louis, he wore a blue and white two-piece that once belonged to his father, William, and uncle, Prince Harry, at his Trooping the Colour debut.

How can you watch Trooping the Colour 2021?

Members of the public are being discouraged from gathering in crowds outside Windsor Castle once again this year, but viewers can watch the ceremony live on the BBC from 10.15am on Saturday. 

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