LONDON - Millions of people will celebrate Queen Elizabeth II'sdiamond jubilee in Britain as the monarch marks 60 years on thethrone in the knowledge that the royal family has never been morepopular. The celebrations reach a climax over four days from June 2 to June5 with a 1,000-boat river pageant on the Thames, a concertfeaturing some of pop's biggest names and the pomp and splendour ofa ceremonial parade. Britons have been granted an unusual two-day public holiday afterthe weekend to mark a truly historic occasion - the queen is onlythe second British monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee, afterqueen Victoria. One million people are expected to line the Thames to see thepageant on June 3, with the queen's ceremonial barge at the centreof a water-borne extravaganza of steam boats and tugs, speed boatsand historic vessels. |
A chain of beacons will be lit across the globe the following day,culminating with the queen lighting the national beacon on a stagein front of Buckingham Palace where Paul McCartney is among thestars performing in her honour. There will also be more informal celebrations up and down thecountry as people hold street parties in a bid to recreate thespirit of the silver jublilee in 1977. Prince William and his wife Catherine will represent the newgeneration of royals when they join a carriage procession on June5. Coming hot on the heels of William's wedding to the then KateMiddleton last year, the jubilee is likely to further boost theroyals' popularity, with a poll this month showing that 80 per centof Britons want the country to remain a monarchy. But amid the celebrations and the acclaim for the queen it is easyto forget that just a decade ago, the picture was very different.
Massive surge of affection for the queen There was palpable ill-will towards the queen following the deathof Diana, princess of Wales in a Paris car crash in 1997, when themonarch was widely criticised for failing to join in the publicoutpouring of grief. She did eventually bow to Diana's coffin as it passed, a momentthat historian Kate Williams says was a turning point. Now there is a "massive surge" of affection for the queen both inBritain and across the Commonwealth, said Williams, the author of"Young Elizabeth: The Making of our Queen". "At the moment the queen's popularity is as high as it's ever beensince her coronation," she told AFP.
"This is really quite incredible when you think about howextraordinarily unpopular she was after the death of Diana. "The amount of people in this country who were either indifferentor felt that the Windsors had got no point at all and should beabolished - that has all changed. "It looks like the entirety of Britain is going to turn out in thefirst weekend in June." At the centre of it all is an 86-year-old great-grandmother, whowas visiting Kenya in February 1952 when she was woken to be toldby her husband Prince Philip that her father, king George VI, haddied at the age of 56, thrusting her into the role of queen. The coronation took place more than a year later, on June 2, 1953,in Westminster Abbey. Six decades on, the packed programme of events to mark the jubileewill be in sharp contrast to the first diamond jubilee in 1897.
Queen Victoria was too lame to manage the steps of St Paul'sCathedral and so a short service of thanksgiving was held outsidethe building. The current queen is apparently in good health and has travelledwidely in Britain this year to meet her subjects, although in a nodto her age she has left trips abroad to mark the jubilee to othermembers of the royal family. Her husband needed emergency heart surgery in December but PrincePhilip is expected to play a full part in the jubilee celebrations,just a week before his 91st birthday.
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