Practising Bollywood dance moves at his school gym in central England, 12-year-old Momin Rashid is excited to be one of the 10,000 performers who will take part in a pageant to honour Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.
The event will conclude four days of national celebrations next month to mark the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, bringing together military bands, dancers and well-known figures from sport and entertainment.
“I am feeling a bit nervous because 10,000 people is a lot and I could get the dance moves wrong,” said Rashid.
But while Rashid, who is of Pakistani heritage and born in Birmingham, is looking forward to dancing in front of Buckingham Palace, and says the queen loves her people, the monarchy itself is a somewhat distant concept.
Asked if he felt close to the royal family, he immediately replied: “No”.
Polls suggest such an attitude should not be a surprise. Elizabeth, 96, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, enjoys widespread popularity according to surveys, with many of her subjects, particularly the more elderly, holding her in deep affection.
But the picture for the monarchy as a whole is less clear. Research by think tank British Future found that 58% of people thought the country should keep the institution for the foreseeable future, but 25% thought the end of the queen’s reign was the time for Britain to become a republic.
In Scotland, less than half supported the monarchy, younger people were also far more ambivalent, and only 37% of ethnic minorities backed the royals compared to 33% who would prefer a republic after the queen.
While Elizabeth has remained above the fray, the institution’s reputation has taken a battering in the last year, with her son Prince Andrew settling a U.S. lawsuit, in which he was accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl, in February.
That followed the exodus of her grandson Prince Harry who quit royal duties to move to Los Angeles with his American wife Meghan and son Archie, from where they have accused Buckingham Palace of racism and being uncaring.
“The queen, incredible, been here for 70 years leading our country – I feel that we should celebrate it and it’s something to be celebrated,” 16-year-old Milen Champaneri said at his Birmingham home where his British-Indian family live.
“But I feel like sooner or later we won’t be seeing many more of those (jubilees) and I feel like the monarchy will soon be dying out.”
His mother Anita said her feeling of connection to the monarchy had soured in recent years, leaving her feeling uneasy about celebrating the Platinum Jubilee and also questioning the longevity of the monarchy.
The 49-year-old public relations professional used to be a devoted royal fan, collecting memorabilia and travelling to Windsor for Harry and Meghan’s dazzling 2018 wedding.
“As a non-white person, people felt really, really part of it,” Champaneri said, looking at photos of herself at the event.
“This year it feels like I really don’t want to because we’re celebrating a family who can’t do right within themselves; whether that’s the mistreatment of Harry and Meghan, or the way Archie hasn’t been embraced because they haven’t given him a princedom, or the way they’ve turned a blind eye to Andrew’s antics.”
In Brixton in south London, there is similar sentiment.
“The queen … I love her. How she holds things together through trials and tribulations. Her husband died, her kids go through so much and she still does her duty. I respect that,” said 62-year-old Jamaican-born Michael Davis.
“I’m not sure after the queen passes away it will be the same,” he added. “We all know that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall through history.”
For those organising the Jubilee pageant, there is hope the event will bring the nation together and showcase the country’s diverse cultures.
According to the British Future report, just over half of respondents thought the monarchy could play a role in bridging the nation’s divides, with 47% of those from ethnic minority backgrounds agreeing.
The pageant for us is about exploring the 70 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign but also the change that’s happened in our society, said the event’s chief executive Rosanna Machado.
Back at the George Dixon Academy in Birmingham where the Year 7 pupils are rehearsing their dance for the pageant choreographer Simmy Gupta hopes the occasion will have some influence on them.
“They might see the monarchy in a different way because they were part of this pageant and this experience,” she said.
But Sangita Bhunia, 12, who was born in Kolkata and came to the United Kingdom when she was six, said she was mostly excited about a day out.
“I mean it’s not because of her (the queen) really… I wanted to go because it’s London, I’ve never been.”