Joyce Lewis has just turned 90, a little over a week before King Charles III's coronation. But she still has strong memories of watching the last one 70 years ago.

In 1953 she and friends camped out on The Mall, the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, to watch the coronation procession of Queen Elizabeth II.

At home in the Warwickshire countryside in central England, Lewis, who was born in London and spent 17 years in Malawi as a teacher and missionary, remembers the day -- and night before -- vividly.

The day before the coronation she and her friends camped out from about 5:00 pm, braving torrential overnight rain and huddled together, trying to catch some sleep.

"It absolutely poured down," she told AFP. "It wasn't comfortable at all."

But the summer rain failed to dampen the mood among the hundreds of thousands who turned out to watch the following day, June 2.

"One of my big memories is how joyful it all was," Lewis recalled. "There was a lot of laughter, a lot of happiness.

"People were expecting a really grand occasion -- and a grand occasion it was."

Lewis and her friends were packed in at the side of the sweeping, tree-lined avenue.

But she said the father of a south Asian family, who had spread out a rug to secure their spot, made space for her, just as the parade began.

"He took me and stood me on the curb next to his family, which was wonderful. So I had a lovely view," she said.

"I was very grateful to him for that."

Despite the hardship of a soggy night out in the open, Lewis said her abiding memory was the purple sky at dawn, quiet and still.

"Then, in the distance, we heard a voice saying, 'Everest is conquered, Hillary has conquered Everest'. So, of course, there was a great cheer," she went on.

The ascent of the world's highest mountain by the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese sherpa Tenzing Norgay was backed by British funding.

The news was "like a sign of a new thing happening to us as a country", she added.

- 'Great privilege' -


Lewis had a clear view of the procession to and from Westminster Abbey.

She remembered the white flowers on the queen's lap on the way to the abbey swaying with the motion of the stately coach.

On the way back, she was clutching the sovereign's orb and sceptre.

"We were close enough to see right into the carriage... so it was really something to remember," she said.

Britain in 1953 was a different place, recovering from the destruction of World War II, and with rationing of food and clothing still in force.

The coronation of a glamourous young queen cut through the drudgery, reflecting a new-found optimism.

To be there was a "great privilege", said Lewis, describing the sight of the queen in her finery, flags and pageantry as "a day of sheer luxury".

As she has aged, Lewis said she has appreciated it more and has faith in Elizabeth's son as "somebody who will do his best", despite the very different challenges he faces.

"That's all a person can do, I think."

Charles's coronation -- after a lifetime of waiting -- has been met with widespread apathy, particularly among younger people.

Republican protesters are expected to be among the throng lining the procession route, making their case for an elected head of state.

But Lewis, a self-confessed royalist, cautions against getting rid of more than a millennium of monarchy and replacing the hereditary principle with potentially volatile, politicised elections for a new figurehead.

"We're very blessed as we are," she said.

Unlike in 1953, weather forecasters are predicting "dry and mild weather" for May 6 but that will not tempt Lewis back to the streets of London.

"No, I will be camped hopefully in front of a television screen," she said.