I always expected the Platinum Jubilee to be full of British patriotism, pomp and ancient regal tradition, albeit with the contemporary pizzazz of 21st century technology; what I wasn't prepared for was how deeply moving the four-day extravaganza would be.
In the end Her Majesty appeared briefly on just four occasions, three of which were on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, but her spirit was everywhere.
I was on the ground in London for every step of the occasion, one I'm sure we will be poring over for decades, if not centuries, to come, and the poignancy of being part of what in all likelihood will be the House of Windsor's only Platinum Jubilee and the final years of the Elizabethan era was palpable.
Most Australians and Brits have only known one head of state: Queen Elizabeth II. And as Prince Philip was for Her Majesty, this monarch has been our "strength and stay", her dedication to service a shining example in a world that has become increasingly divided, our political leaders more divisive.
As a young queen, Elizabeth II was glamorous and energetic, her appetite to travel to all corners of the world, especially the Commonwealth and her realms including Australia, exciting and impactful.
As she matured, Her Majesty began to offer something deeper, partly a reassurance for the people that she will always have our backs, but also values of decency and compassion founded on a profound personal faith – which powerfully makes a point of honouring and welcoming other religions – and a commitment to a promise she made on her 21st birthday that has never wavered.
As she said in her first televised Christmas address in 1957: "I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion."
At 96 years, that devotion was shining bright in these Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and not just with Her Majesty's own appearances, despite her "continuing mobility issues" and "discomfort" following the opening Trooping the Colour ceremony.
For in subtle but clear choreography, The Queen presented a vision of the future. A monarchy still overseen by her matriarchy, her gloved hand on its tiller, but firmly carried by her heirs, Prince Charles and Prince William, and their families.
WATCH: Prince Louis waves on the balcony at The Queen's Birthday Parade. Article continues after video.
At Trooping the Colour it was Charles who led on horseback, ably supported by his sister Anne and his eldest son William, both also on horseback. In a carriage ahead, the future queen consorts, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, sat with the third, fourth and fifth in line to the throne, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
And as the events unfolded on subsequent days, this united team was repeatedly there front and centre. More than that, they were a family united, Prince Louis happily sitting on his grandfather's lap while watching the Platinum Pageant, Prince George taking advice from his great-grandmother, 87 years his senior, while standing in front of cheering crowds on the Palace balcony.
The message was clear: the new House of Windsor may be slimmed down with the exits of Prince Harry, Meghan and Prince Andrew, but it is in safe and very united hands. It was a message much-needed.
The past couple of years have been blighted by controversy, from Prince Harry's vocal criticisms of the royal "Firm" and his seemingly unbridgeable rift with his brother, to the scandal of the sex abuse accusations levelled at Prince Andrew, resulting in his departure from royal life. Both situations threatened to overshadow the Platinum Jubilee. But they didn't.
As it turned out, it was Prince Louis and an impossibly cute Paddington Bear who proved scene-stealers – which we'll come to – and a largely media-confected storm in a teacup around the relegation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to "second row royals" in their only public appearance at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral.
At this service, which the Queen pulled out of at the last minute, Harry and Meghan were seated across the aisle from William and Kate and in the second row, with working royals taking the front spots.
Clearly the Palace wanted to be sure that the brothers wouldn't be photographed together, to avoid any potential commentary about the state of their relations. But on the day, for me, the beauty of the service – soaring choristers and a pertinent sermon by the Archbishop of York – were the real takeaways.
"[Your Majesty] thank you for staying the course. Thank you for continuing to be faithful to the pledges you made 70 years ago. Thank you for showing us how service and faithfulness matter," the Archbishop said.
Yes, four-year-old Prince Louis yawned, laughed, scowled and clapped his hands on his ears, his mouth forming a silent scream when a wonderful display of vintage aircraft joined the traditional Red Arrows flypast as the Queen watched with her team of other working royals on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following Trooping the Colour. It was an image that dominated the front pages the next day.
As for Paddington Bear. What a performance, matched I have to say by Her Majesty. While the Queen didn't attend the electric Party at the Palace concert, she did kick off the proceedings with a wicked video in the style of her much-loved encounter with James Bond at the London Olympics.
In the hilarious pre-recorded skit, Paddington is a guest at the Palace for tea, and pulls out his famed marmalade sandwich from under his hat. In response, Her Majesty with impeccable timing reveals she too saves a marmalade sandwich in her handbag – "for later" – thus answering the much-pondered question of what the monarch keeps in her purse. Brilliant!
The concert, too, starring Adam Lambert with Queen singing We Will Rock You and a rocking Sweet Caroline from Sir Rod Stewart, was a night to remember, not least for the remarkably inventive light show and speeches from Prince William and Prince Charles.
"Your Majesty, Mummy … The scale of this evening's celebration, and the outpouring of warmth and affection over this whole Jubilee weekend, is our way of saying thank you – thank you from your family, the country, the Commonwealth, in fact the whole world." Prince Charles wasn't exaggerating; the magnitude of the crowds was eye-popping and every onlooker filled to the brim with love for the monarch. I sound gushing, but it was truly extraordinary to witness.
When, after the final event of the celebration (the Platinum Pageant, an impressive community carnival celebrating every decade of this second Elizabethan era) the Queen made an unexpected final appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony, the crowd went wild cheering and belting out God Save the Queen with emotional gusto. It wasn't an anthem, it was a serenade.
As for the Queen, it seems she was equally emotional in her own closing message to her people: "When it comes to how to mark 70 years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee.
"While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family.
"I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come."
Just perfect. I will never forget being there to witness this magical monarchy milestone.
You can read this story and many others in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly - on sale now