LONDON (Reuters) - While Queen Elizabeth’s gilded barge and a 1,000-boat flotilla graced the river Thames, residents in the north London suburb where last year’s riots began gathered more to heal their community than celebrate the monarch’s 60-year reign.
When a group of mothers in Tottenham first talked of holding a party on Sunday to mark the queen’s diamond jubilee, they found that some welcomed the idea of a get-together, but were not so keen on the royal linkage.
“I was doing the main planning, and if the people didn’t want it to be about the queen, well then that was fine by me, because the aim was to bring the community together,” said Siobhan McAuliffe, who still had curlers in her hair in preparation for the party.
Later, women in plastic tiaras herded children kitted out in Union Jack clothes on a street where 10 months earlier youths went on the rampage, torching buildings, looting shops and smashing almost every window in the pub where the party planning meetings would be held.
“After the riots, I actually felt much more defensive and protective about the community and wanted to meet other people and wanted people to understand that these are not like the bad lands around here,” said another organizer, Katherine Mumford.
The riots in Tottenham, which started after a peaceful protest against the killing of a 29-year-old local man by police on August 4, 2011, sparked similar scenes across London and in regional cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
After the worst unrest in a quarter of a century, police blamed inner city gangs, while politicians decried wanton criminality. Many wondered aloud if these were the symptoms of what Prime Minister David Cameron called Britain’s “broken society” and moral decay.
Community leaders spoke of a disadvantaged underclass, while tabloid newspapers referred to Britain’s “feral youth”: angry, alienated and poor, with a taste for plasma TVs and pricey sneakers.
“They don’t believe that they have any hope, or aspiration or anything,” said 26-year old Zimbabwe-born Adam Ncube, who planned to sell printed T-shirts of the queen.
“They don’t see the point of working hard now for future returns: they want money now, fast, quick. They want a nice car, they want nice trainers, they want this, they want that. That is just the society we live in.”
On Tottenham High Road, still scarred by burned street signs and boarded-up buildings, some youths expressed bewilderment when asked about the jubilee celebrations, which have been given adoring all-day coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“When is it?” one man asked outside a betting shop. Two others eating chips dipped in mayonnaise and ketchup demanded money for their opinions and resorted to expletives when none was offered.
“The queen is a pirate,” said another hooded youth who refused to give his name or be filmed. “She has been robbing people for 80 years. I ain’t gonna celebrate nothing.”
‘GOD SAVE THE QUEEN’
Just a few hundred meters away, patriotic hymns rang out from the packed Anglican church of St Mary the Virgin, along with the national anthem, God Save the Queen.
“We had my favorite hymns today,” said Gloria Omotoso, a retired nurse, who clutched several Union Jack flags.
“The queen is good for this country: we have not got anarchy, we have not got dictatorship. Yes, I know things are bad for some people, but they could be worse. We are free, free to speak and free to do anything we want within the law.”
At Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm, a notorious public housing estates where an earlier episode of rioting erupted in 1985, many residents expressed admiration for the queen.
“I love the queen. She is kind, she is lovely, she is blessed by God, by the almighty. She is great,” said Andrew Asare Brew, a 60-year-old Ghanaian-born man.
“I have bought goat meat to prepare a feast today. We are going to have a party,” he said with a chuckle.
Some locals said they admired the monarchy as a symbol of unity, nowhere more important than in the ethnic soup that is London, and of continuity, embodying a thousand years of British history.
But such abstractions carried little weight with some of Tottenham’s younger residents.
“I don’t really see what she actually does for the country,” said Daniel, a 21-year-old student from the Broadwater Farm Estate.
“She stays where she is or goes to other countries, but she doesn’t come here. She doesn’t really do much for us, so I don’t see her as an important figure for me,” he said.
Editing by Will Waterman