Excited Britons wait for their queen

2012-06-03 14:41
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The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

England prepares for a four-day holiday weekend in honor of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee to celebrate her 60 years as monarch.

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London - Queen Elizabeth II was to sail on a ceremonial barge down the Thames on Sunday at the centre of a 1 000-boat pageant to mark her diamond jubilee, although heavy rain threatened to spoil the party.

The biggest water-borne pageant on London's river for 350 years is the set-piece event of four days of national celebrations for the queen's 60th year on the throne.

While hundreds of thousands of people gathered in London to watch the remarkable collection of boats on their 11km journey, millions more were holding street parties around Britain in an event termed "the Big Lunch".

Red, white and blue bunting was flying in towns and villages as people gathered to watch the pageant on television before holding their own celebrations.

The river pageant will be led by a barge carrying eight newly cast giant bells ringing out and the bells of churches along the Thames will reply as the biggest such pageant in London for 350 years progresses down the river.

Sightseeing boat

The 86-year-old queen and senior royals will follow on board the Spirit of Chartwell, a converted sightseeing boat decorated with flowers whose prow will be adorned with a golden sculpture depicting a flowing-bearded Father Thames.

Behind them will follow a collection of steam boats and tugs, speed boats and historic vessels, including Dunkirk "little ships" that evacuated British forces from Europe in World War II and a Chinese dragon boat.

The pageant will reach central London by 14:30 and is expected to last four hours.

Some avid royal fans camped out overnight along the banks of the river, braving driving rain to secure a good vantage point.

Nicola Holder, a retired community worker from Devon in southwest England, said she had been prepared to put up with "miserable" conditions and with a wringing-wet sleeping bag to see the spectacle from Westminster Bridge.

"I've never seen anything like this, and I've just got so much respect for the queen," she told AFP, peering at Big Ben through the rain and fog.

Spirits high

"I can't think of any other human being who's set an example like she has. I think she's been a very wise lady - as a nation we owe her a huge debt."

Forecasters said there would be little respite as the day wore on, with rain getting heavier in the capital.

Pageant Master Adrian Evans, who is in charge of the extravaganza, brushed off the sodden conditions.

"There is some rain around, but it has not dampened any spirits," he said.

"We in Britain are experts at not letting the weather spoil our fun."

Britons have planned more than 9 500 street parties for Sunday, bidding to recreate the spirit of the queen's silver jubilee in 1977 when millions held street parties.

Days of partying

The four-day national jubilee holiday began on Saturday with the queen indulging in her love of horse racing at the Epsom Derby horse race, where she was greeted by flag-waving crowds.

A huge Union Jack was projected onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday night, and the huge London Eye ferris wheel on the Thames was illuminated in red, white and blue.

The celebrations come as the royal family enjoys its highest support for decades. That is especially true for the queen, who is only the second British monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee, after queen Victoria in 1897.

The river pageant on Sunday is by far the most complex part of the festivities, and effectively doubles up as a security rehearsal for the London Olympics that open on July 27.

Some 190 boats will sail alongside the pageant to handle security and respond to any emergencies, while around 5 500 police and 7 000 volunteers will be on standby.

Heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, as well as Prince William, his wife Catherine and his brother Prince Harry, are joining the queen and her husband Prince Philip on the sumptuous red and gold royal barge.

Music ranging from the national anthem and chiming bells to Bollywood tunes and the famous James Bond theme will blare from boats, while the Thames flood barrier will be closed to ensure calm waters.

On Monday there will be a concert in the shadow of Buckingham Palace featuring Paul McCartney and other top names, before the festivities culminate in the pomp and splendour of a ceremonial parade on Tuesday.

Read more on:    queen elizabeth ii  |  uk
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