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Monday, June 4, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II sparkles on her day for the Diamond Jubilee

LONDON — On a luxury barge festooned with flowers, Queen Elizabeth II sailed down the River Thames on Sunday amid a motley but majestic flotilla of 1,000 vessels, mustered to mark her 60 years on the British throne.

Hundreds of thousands of Union Jack-waving spectators formed a red, white and blue wave along London's riverbanks and bridges, cheering the 86-year-old monarch and her armada of motorboats, rowboats and sailboats of all shapes and sizes. The pageant was a nod to Britain's maritime heritage and one of the biggest events on the river for centuries.

The queen wore a silver and white dress and matching coat — embroidered with gold, silver and ivory spots and embellished with Swarovski crystals to evoke the river — for her trip aboard the barge Spirit of Chartwell, decorated for the occasion in rich red, gold and purple velvet.

The queen's grandson, Prince William, and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge — he in his Royal Air Force uniform, she in a red Alexander McQueen dress — and William's brother, Prince Harry, were among senior royals who joined the queen and her husband, Prince Philip.

After a celebratory peal of bells, the boat set off downstream at a stately 4 knots (4.6 mph, 7.4 kph), accompanied by skiffs, barges, narrow boats, kayaks, gondolas, dragon boats and even a replica Viking longboat.

The flotilla was sailing past some of the city's great landmarks — including the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and St. Paul's Cathedral — before ending its journey near Tower Bridge. Downriver, ships too tall to fit under London's bridges were moored along both banks of the river.

Large crowds turned out despite cold, drizzly weather to fete a queen who has assumed the status of nation's grandmother.

Hundreds of people ignored the persistent rain and camped out overnight to secure prime riverside spots. Crowds swelled into the thousands Sunday, with revelers in hats, flags, leggings and rain ponchos adorned with the Union flag mixing with burger and cotton candy vendors along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) 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 was 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.

Joining in the festivities with the crowds in Battersea Park, colourful London Mayor Boris Johnson brushed off concerns about the poor weather.

"I think the weather is the ideal climatic conditions for a proper British summer festivity," he said.

"People will want to show their admiration for the Queen's 60 years on the throne, whatever the weather throws at them."

In a city suffering chronic depression as a result of the double-dip recession, the celebrations were a welcome distraction.

Painter Liz Martyn and her childhood friend Vivien Watt, from Devon, took one look at the weather and decided the dress code of the day should be ski gear.

The pair, both 61, have lived through the six decades of the Queen's reign.

"There were six other kids in my school named Elizabeth because we were all born when the Queen came to the throne and we've grown up with them," Ms Martyn, who moved to Australia from the UK in 1981, said.

Ms Watt, who spent time living in the Hunter Valley, witnessed the weddings of both Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and Prince William and Kate Middleton - but her parents' royal link was even more intimate.

"My parents, when they got married, their friends were florists in London and they had made the Queen's bouquet for her wedding, so when my parents got married they made them an identical one," she said.

Joining the Queen from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge in the east were the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce was on board the Sarpedon, sharing deck-space with Foreign Secretary William Hague and heads of state.

In a mark of extreme trust, Australian navy guards were assigned to secure the royal family safe passage, while Aussie surf lifesavers were on hand to give CPR if Her Majesty went overboard.

Summing up her feelings before hitting the water as the youngest female among 29 lifesavers, Caitlin McConnel said the best words were total euphoria. "It's amazing," the 22-year-old Brisbane resident said. "The whole world is watching. And if we can tackle six-foot waves we can certainly tackle a bit of rain."

But fellow Queenslander Rachel Kilmartin, also 22, said the cold weather was a shock.

The weather was expected to clear before Australian performers Kylie Minogue and Rolf Harris take to the state open-air Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace tonight.In Sydney, hundreds marked the milestone with a service at St Andrew's Cathedral.
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