LONDON – More than 1,000 boats were to sail down the River Thames on Sundayin a flotilla tribute to Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on thethrone that organizers are calling the biggest gathering on theriver for 350 years. Despite cool, drizzly weather, hundreds of thousands of people areexpected to line the riverbanks between Hammersmith and TowerBridge in London, feting the British monarch whose longevity hasgiven her the status of the nation's favorite grandmother. The queen and members of her family will lead the river pageantaboard a flower-bedecked royal barge, accompanied by skiffs,barges, narrowboats, motor launches, row boats and sailing vesselsfrom around the world. "We in Britain are experts at not letting the weather spoil ourfun," said Adrian Evans, pageant master for Sunday's flotilla. |
"TheLondon Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing 'Singin' In The Rain'as they travel down the river, and the crowd can sing along withthem." Hundreds of people ignored the persistent rain and camped outovernight to secure prime riverside spots. "It would have been wonderful if it had been sunny like last Sundaybut we have come prepared," said 57-year-old Christine Steele. "Wehave got blankets, brollies (umbrellas), flags and bunting. We evengot our glittery Union Jack hats and wigs, and the Champagne is onice." The spectacle is a tribute to Britain's past — monarchs usedthe river as their main highway for centuries, and naval powerbuilt the island nation's once-great empire — as well as itsabiding love of boats and the sea.
Among the flotilla vessels will be several of the "Dunkirk LittleShips," private boats that rescued thousands of British soldiersfrom the beaches of France after the German invasion in 1940— a defeat that became a major victory for wartime morale. The four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations also include thousands ofstreet parties across the country on Sunday and a Monday popconcert in front of Buckingham Palace featuring Elton John and PaulMcCartney — though not everyone in Britain will becelebrating. The anti-monarchist group Republic plans a riverbankprotest as the flotilla goes by on Sunday, followed by a pub nightwhere royal refuseniks can drown their sorrows. "People are sick and tired of being told they must celebrate 60years of one very privileged, very remote and very uninspiring headof state," said the group's chief executive, Graham Smith. "Thehereditary system is offensive to all the democratic values thiscountry has fought for in the past." Jubiliee celebrations kicked off Saturday with a royal day at theraces, as the queen watched a horse with the courtly name ofCamelot win the Epsom Derby.
Jubilee festivities officially beganwith a 41-gun salute fired by the King's Troop, Royal HorseArtillery at Horse Guards Parade in central London. The 86-year-old monarch and her husband, Prince Philip, visitedEpsom racecourse south of the capital for the Derby, one of theyear's biggest horse-racing meetings. The queen is a racing fan and horse breeder who has attended theDerby for decades and reads the Racing Post each day overbreakfast, although unlike many of her subjects she does notgamble. "She's incredibly knowledgeable. Her knowledge of thoroughbreds andbreeding goes way back," said Anthony Cane, chairman of Epsom DownsRacecourse.
Jubilee events end Tuesday with a religious service at St. Paul'sCathedral, a carriage procession through the streets of London andthe queen's appearance with her children, grandchildren andgreat-grandchildren on the palace balcony. The queen took the throne in 1952 on the death of her father, KingGeorge VI, and most Britons have known no other monarch. Prime Minister David Cameron — the 12th British leader of thequeen's reign — paid tribute to the monarch's "extraordinarylevel of physical energy, mental energy, and above all devotion toher people, to the institutions of this country, to the way ourdemocracy works." In a jubilee gift from Britain's politicians, lawmakers from thethree main parties have backed a motion calling for the towerhousing Big Ben — the beloved London bell that chimes thequarter hour — to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in thequeen's honor.
It's currently called the Clock Tower. While many Britons used the long weekend to relax — and anestimated 2 million left the country on vacation — writersand religious leaders used the occasion to reflect on how Britainhas changed over the queen's reign, from a war-scarred imperialpower to a middle-sized power with oversized cultural clout. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of theAnglican Church, expressed a widely held view when he said Britainhad been lucky to have Elizabeth as monarch throughout a period ofrapid change. "It seems to me that what her importance has been for most peoplein this country has been as a sign of stability, a sign of somekind of security," Williams said in a jubilee video message. ___ Online:.
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