‘More stunts, Maverick!’ Even Tom Cruise couldn’t save the Queen’s hellish jubilee horsefest

Repeatedly throughout last night’s The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration (ITV), we were told emphatically that the whole event was designed with the Queen’s interests in mind. There would be no youth-appeasing Live Aid-style concert. In fact, there would be no concession to popular tastes whatsoever. Instead, it was going to be two straight hours of looking inside Queen Elizabeth’s brain. So, if nothing else, at least we now understand why she looks so bored all the time.

Good lord, was it a slog. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration was essentially made up of three elements: celebrities, history and horses. And horses. And more horses. In retrospect, this unending equine onslaught should have been expected because, in a duplicitous move, ITV had basically just filmed the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show and passed it off as a once-in-a-lifetime jubilee celebration. The repackaging was so shameless that, for the most part, it was unclear whether the Queen actually knew any of this was for her jubilee or not.

As such, your enjoyment of the night largely depended on how much you like watching lines of horses make geometric shapes. “This is a very difficult routine,” commentator Phillip Schofield told us again and again, as we were treated to the sight of several horses walking around a vast dirt area in a rectangle. Or in a circle. Or going quite fast, or going relatively slowly. Or, in one showstopping moment, temporarily lying down before getting back up again.

The event was attended by 4,000 spectators and I sensed that those people, who love horses enough to watch them plod around for two hours, had an absolutely thrilling time. But the spectacle did not translate well to television at all. There was no idea of the speed or expertise or danger of any of it. I don’t want to repeat myself but, to the casual television viewer – perhaps lured in by the promise of big name celebrities – it was just a bunch of horses going backwards and forwards a lot.

Only one horse-based segment stood out. When the Azerbaijani contingent arrived, hurling fire around and doing handstands on horseback, there was a moment of actual excitement. But that’s the level of daredevilry it takes to entertain a television audience in 2022 and, short of literally firing horses out of cannons, it’s a hard one to sustain.

The horstravaganza wasn’t just horses for the sake of it, though. No, it was all in aid of the throughline of the evening, which was an attempt to retell 500 years of history in what felt like real time. Helen Mirren, dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, gave a speech about the Spanish Armada. Two fibreglass boats were dragged across the arena, the Spanish one getting booed beyond all comprehension by the audience. We were told about Guy Fawkes, about Captain Scott, about Barrington and Billington. All the way up to the present, in fact, with the modern age being represented by the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra playing Hot Hot Hot on steel drums.

It’s this retelling of history that prompted all the celebrity guests. The big draw of the night, of course, was Tom Cruise, who has a film to promote. Given how far Cruise will push his body in the name of entertainment, there had been hope he would indulge in some light stuntwork here: maybe abseiling from a helicopter or making a horse jump a doubledecker bus. In the end, however, he simply read a few passages from an Autocue, as did Damian Lewis and Martin Clunes . And that was it. Weeks of trailing, for the royal equivalent of presenting a Brit award.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling shortchanged. On Saturday night, Twitter became a swamp of Eurovision, with seemingly every single tweet dedicated to the event. Last night, I clocked only three or four tweets about The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration, and one of those read: “Is anyone watching ITV or am I having a stroke?”

You can’t really begrudge the Queen for the show, because the least anyone deserves for keeping the same job for 70 years is getting to look at some horses for a bit. But that doesn’t mean we all had to. If The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration taught us anything, it’s that being a monarch might be hard, but filling two and a half hours of primetime ITV is much harder.

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