Forty years ago we were New Elizabethans.: Everest had been conquered and everything was possible. On 2 June 1953 loyal Britons rejoiced. Coronation Day - it was unforgettable. It certainly did not occur to anyone that there might never be another

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I KNOW exactly where I was and what I was doing 40 years ago today. At the time it seemed as though every other child in Britain was there, too. I was camped out in the Mall in London, wild with patriotic excitement, waiting for the Coronation coach to roll past, carrying the Queen and her husband on their way to Westminster Abbey.

I was just 13 at the time, a bespectacled little swot at boarding school. My parents were abroad, so when we were all given a long weekend off from school, my best friend's 'people' invited me to join them and camp out on the streets of London for three days, to secure a front-row view of the procession.

My friend Madelaine's father, Terence, whom, of course, I never called anything but 'Mr Verity', was an art director in the palmy days of the British cinema, which made the whole family enviably glamorous in my eyes. (They knew people like James Mason])

Mr Verity drove up to London in his Land Rover with Madelaine and me and her two sisters and brother squashed in among the sleeping bags and primus stoves, all of us over-excited and giggly with the here-at-last glory of it.

By Sunday afternoon we had secured a prime site on the pavement outside Clarence House. Mr Verity put up a sort of tent, but we were incapable of being confined to it for more than five minutes at a time. We wandered off, strolling up and down the Mall, admiring the decorations arching above it with a series of delicate crowns and lions and unicorns, and watched the fleets of shiny black cars carrying dignitaries to and from Buckingham Palace.

The next day, Monday, the papers carried huge black headlines proclaiming 'EVEREST CONQUERED]'. It all seemed perfectly, wonderfully appropriate, a thrilling tribute to our beloved young Queen. We were New Elizabethans, and did not doubt that a great new reign had begun.

As the day wore on, the crowds on the streets thickened. On our prime site we were now being jostled from all sides. Mrs Verity gave us sandwiches and sausage rolls for supper, and a bottle of milk and an apple each. There was a good deal of singing, especially as darkness fell. Madelaine and I were far too thrilled to sleep. We crammed into one sleeping bag and listened to the crowds. London thrummed with expectation.

The rain held off till about 11pm and then a gentle downpour began. Nobody cared. I fell asleep wondering how the Queen must be feeling. I said a fervent prayer for her and her reign and her subjects and good weather tomorrow.

We were awake at dawn on Tuesday morning. After nearly 16 months of fevered anticipation, the day had arrived. The newspapers carried sketches by Norman Hartnell of the Queen's Coronation robe. A special souvenir programme, giving the order of the procession and who was in the carriages and the words of all the anthems that would be sung in Westminster Abbey, was on sale in the street. It cost, I think, 2s 6d and I bought one, vowing to cherish it for ever. I lost it.

I have no memory of washing or cleaning my teeth or spending a penny throughout those three days. I keenly remember that, as the first, boring bits of the procession began to move past, Madelaine and I found our view blocked by the legs of the crowd. Madelaine began to cry. 'We've been here ever since Sunday and I can't see]' she howled.

'The little lady can't see,' said a kind bystander.

'Pass her over, then,' said a man at the front, and with the help of a policeman, Madelaine and I were lifted up and swung across the heads of the people lining the pavement, to stand bang in front between two soldiers. Now we could see perfectly.

As the golden coach appeared, a glorious shout rose from the crowd, and as it passed, I found the same shout spiralling from my throat. I held my camera ready to click. When the perfect moment came, I was so transfixed by the shiningly beautiful face of my sovereign that my finger would not press the shutter. I was paralysed by joy.