Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II boarded a ceremonial barge for a 1,000-boat river pageant on the Thames yesterday in the set-piece of her diamond jubilee celebrations.
The queen, dressed in a white hat and a silver-and-white coat, was ferried to the barge on the launch of the now-decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia, as hundreds of thousands of people lining the banks of the Thames cheered.
An eclectic collection of hundreds of rowing boats, cruisers and steam ships had mustered to sail down the river behind the queen’s barge.
As the queen sailed to the barge, Union Jacks flew from the balconies of apartments which were packed with spectators.
The 86-year-old British monarch boarded the Spirit of Chartwell, a converted sightseeing boat decorated with flowers from the royal estates, where other senior royals, including Prince William and his wife, Catherine, were waiting.
Behind the queen’s barge was massed a flotilla of steam boats and tugs, speed boats and historic vessels, including Dunkirk “little ships” that evacuated British forces from Europe during World War II, and a Chinese dragon boat.
The flotilla was led by a barge carrying eight newly cast giant bells which will ring out as the boats move up the river, prompting churches along the Thames to reply with peals of their own bells.
Despite cool, drizzly weather, hundreds of thousands of people lined the riverbanks between Hammersmith and Tower Bridge in London, feting the British monarch whose longevity has given her the status of the nation’s favorite grandmother.
Hundreds of people ignored the persistent rain and camped out overnight on Saturday to secure prime riverside spots.
Crowds swelled into the thousands yesterday, with revelers in hats, flags, leggings and rain ponchos adorned with the Union flag mixing with burger and cotton-candy vendors along the 11km route.
“It would have been wonderful if it had been sunny like last Sunday, but we have come prepared,” said 57-year-old Christine Steele. “We have got blankets, brollies [umbrellas], flags and bunting. We even got our glittery Union Jack hats and wigs, and the champagne is on ice.”
The spectacle is a tribute to Britain’s past — monarchs used the river as their main highway for centuries, and naval power built the island nation’s once-great empire — as well as to its abiding love of boats and the sea.
The four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations also included thousands of street parties across the country yesterday. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, joined hundreds of people for a damp al fresco lunch on Piccadilly, one of London’s main shopping streets.
However, not everyone in Britain is celebrating.
The anti-monarchist group Republic held a riverbank protest yesterday to oppose the wave of jubilee-mania.
In a jubilee gift from Britain’s politicians, lawmakers from the three main parties have backed a motion calling for the tower housing Big Ben — the beloved London bell that chimes the quarter hour — to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in the queen’s honor. It is currently called the Clock Tower.