Cheering crowds ignored rain and low temperatures to line the banks of London’s river to witness its largest pageant for 350 years. The queen, 86, and her husband, Prince Philip, 90, boarded a lavishly decorated royal barge, which formed the centrepiece of a flotilla of vessels including kayaks, skiffs, Dunkirk little ships, tugs, barges and sailing ships.
“To finally see these boats mustered on the Thames, it just lifts the spirit,” Pageant Master Adrian Evans told the British Broadcasting Corp. today. “History unfolds at every step with these boats.” The last flotilla of such magnitude on the river was in 1662 when Charles II introduced his new Queen, Catherine of Braganza.
The armada will sail along a seven-mile stretch of the Thames, ending at Tower Bridge when the final music barge -- carrying members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir -- will perform Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and the national anthem.
Evans said the biggest “wow” moment of the day was likely to be the sight of the 90 feet (27 meters) royal barge. “It’s stunning; she’s like a palace on the water,” he said.
The Diamond Jubilee weekend got under way yesterday when the queen arrived at the Derby, the highlight of the flat horse- racing season. The celebrations will culminate on June 5 with a day of pageantry including a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral in central London, when Britons will enjoy an extra public holiday.
Only one British monarch has spent longer than the current queen on the throne: Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901. Her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, captured on grainy black-and-white film, is the only precedent for this weekend’s events. It’s just over a year since London’s streets saw the last major royal event, the marriage of the queen’s grandson, Prince William, to Kate Middleton.
“For 60 years the queen has been a point of light in our national life; brilliant, enduring and resilient,” Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in a tribute to the monarch last week for Parliament’s The House magazine. “Through a reign of unparalleled change -- from postwar Britain through to the jet age, space age and digital age -- she has remained resolutely unchanged in her commitment to this country.”
The queen -- the 40th monarch in a line that began with William the Conqueror in 1066 -- took the throne at a time when Britain was recovering from the ravages of World War II, with food rationing still in force, and beginning to grant independence to its colonies. Winston Churchill, who’d led the country to wartime victory, was again prime minister, the first of 12 who’ve held weekly audiences with the monarch.
Cameron today rejected any suggestion that she might abdicate, or that the crown might skip a generation and go straight to Prince William instead of her heir, Prince Charles.
“Both of those things are out of the question,” Cameron told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show,” in an interview. “You get the sense that she will go on doing the amazing job she’s been doing as long as she can.”
Despite showers forecast for most of the day, thousands of street parties will be held across Britain after more than 9,500 applications for road closures approved for jubilee events, the British Broadcasting Corp. said.
Matt Dobson, a forecaster at MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “The radar image shows a scattering of heavy showers out to the west of London and these are expected to move slowly eastwards across the capital during the course of the afternoon.”
The jubilee celebration will continue tomorrow, when a concert will be held outside Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s central London residence, featuring stars such as Paul McCartney, Elton John and Tom Jones -- all of whom have been knighted by the queen.
The final day of events will see the queen and the extended royal family attending the national service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s in London’s financial district on June 5.
After a reception at the Mansion House hosted by the Lord Mayor of London and lunch at the Houses of Parliament, the queen and Prince Philip will return to Buckingham Palace in a horse- drawn open carriage. The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla will also be in the procession, along with William and his wife and William’s brother, Prince Harry.
The climax of the event, just before 3:30 p.m., will see those senior royals appear on the palace balcony, in time for a flypast by planes of the Royal Air Force and a celebratory cascade of rifle fire from the soldiers of the Queen’s Guard, interspersed with the national anthem.
A YouGov Plc poll conducted May 27 and May 28 found 86 percent of 1,743 respondents saying the queen had done a good job as monarch. Of those surveyed, 73 percent said Britain should continue to have a monarchy, up four points on a year ago.
“It’s only really been over the last five, eight, 10 years that I’ve really learned to understand and accept the huge deal that she is around the world,” Harry said in an ABC television interview that aired last week. “She has managed to get the family to move with the times.”
The queen has weathered less popular times. Many found her response to the 1997 death of Princess Diana, an internationally popular figure before and after the breakup of her marriage to Prince Charles, to be cold and indifferent to the outpouring of public grief. “Show Us You Care,” shouted a headline in the Express newspaper before the queen broke days of silence over the tragedy.
“I found in the queen someone who can be friendly, who can be informal, who can be extremely funny in private -- and not everybody appreciates just how funny she can be --, who is quite prepared to tease and to be teased, and who, while retaining her dignity always, doesn’t stand on her dignity in a conversation,” he said in a video released by his office.
The celebrations may do little to help the economy, with spending on food and drink and tourist revenue likely to be offset by a loss of output as some companies shut down for the entire week. The holiday is forecast to depress gross domestic product in the second quarter, raising the risk that Britain slides deeper into recession.
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