Six decades ago, Lady Anne Glenconner was a 19-year-old young British woman working for her mother's ceramics business before being selected as one of Queen Elizabeth II's six maids of honor during her coronation. This prestigious role—given to her partially because of her social status—offered Lady Glenconner a front-row view of the historic moment from the famed coronation balcony where Queen Elizabeth stood.
In honor of the 65th anniversary of the event and the premiere of the new documentary The Coronation, airing Sunday on the Smithsonian Channel, Lady Glenconner walked InStyle through the day, step by step.
I always say I feel so lucky and proud. My parents were friends of the late king and the queen mother, and we had always known them. My sister and I used to play with the queen and Princess Margaret when we were children. We'd go to their birthday parties, so we sort of always known them. In [World War II], we were sent to Scotland and they were at Windsor [Castle], so we didn't see each other very much.
We were very much photographed during the time we were practicing [for the coronation] in the Abbey. We were sort of like the Spice Girls in those days. In those days, there weren't girl bands, but we were photographed the whole time.
On the day of, four of us were waiting at the door for the queen in the Abbey, and we could hear her coming from the shouts, and around corner came this golden coach and she opened the door. Her dress was embroidered all over, and she had a tiny waist and beautiful skin and eyes. She didn't say anything to us, not until we were in the Abbey and we had her train, which rippled over our hands. We had only practiced once with her, and she turned around, and she said, "Ready, girls?" And off we went.
[To be a maid of honor,] we all had to be daughters of earls, marquises, or dukes and unmarried. We had to have nice figures and we were all carefully chosen because of our height, with two very tall girls in the back and I was in the middle with another girl. Norman Hartnell made our dresses. It was the most exciting thing to see these beautiful dresses. They were made of silk from Wales—there's a silkworm farm there—and they were heavily embroidered down the back. After the war, because we had no clothes during the war, it was the most thrilling thing. The only thing about the dresses were they weren't lined, so they were very prickly. They were very tight. We did look lovely. We had very nice wreaths in our hair made of corn and pearl roses and little crystal flowers.
We had to adjust the way we walked for a moment because [Queen Elizabeth] walked faster than the Duchess of Norfolk, who we'd trained with before ... The queen was calm, which made us calm too.
The amazing thing was going on the balcony with her. You couldn't put a pin between people, there were so many, and they were all shouting for her and waving. You could just feel the love coming off them. People were so excited because the war had been grim for everybody, and we all felt this was the beginning of a wonderful new Elizabethan age with this ravishing young queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. We were all in love with him. He was so handsome. He looked after [Queen Elizabeth]. He was wonderful, he always had his eye out to see if she was OK. Luckily, everywhere the queen went, we went. And so we we went on the balcony with her, then we had our photograph taken, and then we had some tea and all that. In the evening, I went with a friend down below Buckingham Palace. [The queen] came out after dinner, and I thought, well, earlier in the day I'd be up there on the balcony with her, and now I'm below shouting things and wanting to see her. That was the end of the amazing day for me and us all.
The only thing people didn't see was the anointing. The queen didn't want that televised because it was a religious moment, so the cameras were turned off and they put a canopy over and took away all her regalia, her crown, and the orb, and the scepter and dressed her in a white linen shift, and then she was anointed with holy oil and and gave herself to the nation and the Commonwealth and the people and to God. It was a very moving moment and we were so lucky to be able to see that. Very few people did.
I was 19. We were quite young in those days because of the war. We had lived such sheltered lives. We were all working. I worked for my mother's ceramics business. One of the others was a musician—she played piano. At the time, people seemed quite interested in all that, but it was a long, long time ago now. But it's wonderful that the queen's still alive and well. She still goes riding. I gave up riding a long time ago, but she still goes riding in Windsor Park.
She goes up stairs without holding on. She's so interested in gardening despite all the other things she has to do, it's great. This year, she's got lots to look forward to with Harry's wedding, and the Duchess of Cambridge having a baby, and then her other granddaughter Zara's having a baby. Lots of excitement.
The coronation was a long time ago now. It's getting to the 65th anniversary, but for most of us maids of honor, we're still alive, and it was the most amazing day we've ever had, I suppose. It's something that will always be with us.
—As told to Alexandra Whittaker