Britons yesterday began four days of festivities for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee, turning out in droves for events around the country in a surge of enthusiasm for the monarchy.
Gun salutes across Britain launched celebrations at noon, marking the exact anniversary of the queen’s coronation, while the sovereign herself indulged in her love of horse racing at the Epsom Derby.
Tens of thousands of people were awaiting the queen at the racecourse, while thousands more paraded through the Scottish city of Perth, held community parties and even traveled to watch military bands rehearse in London ahead of the main celebrations.
“It’s not every morning you wake up on a day that will be written about in the history books,” declared the Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper. “Make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. It may be centuries before another comes along.”
Cloudy weather and forecasts of rain appeared unlikely to deter the public from partying amid the highest support for the royals in decades. A recent poll showed about 80 percent of Britons want the country to stay a monarchy.
People were already camping in tents beside the River Thames ahead of a pageant of about 1,000 boats that are scheduled to sail through London today, with the 86-year-old queen in a royal barge decked with 10,000 flowers.
Britons have planned more than 9,500 street parties for today, and tomorrow about 4,000 beacons will be lit across the Commonwealth following a huge picnic and star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace.
Tuesday — like tomorrow a public holiday — is devoted to ceremonial events, including a thanksgiving service and carriage procession.
Crowds of racegoers, some in top hats and tailcoats, were arriving at Epsom just outside London yesterday in anticipation of the monarch’s appearance at a racecourse whose tents were covered with Union Jack flags and bunting.
The queen, an avid horse-racing fan who still rides despite her age, was expected to be driven down the course in an open-topped vehicle with her husband, Prince Philip, 90, before a flag-waving crowd of more than 150,000 people.
The Red Arrows aerobatic team were set to give a display of daredevil flying, and mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins was to perform the national anthem ahead of the Epsom Derby, Britain’s richest horse race, which dates back to 1780.
The queen acceded to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, upon the death of her father, King George VI, and was crowned the following year on June 2.