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Queen sails in 1,000-boat diamond jubilee flotilla

Queen Elizabeth II sailed along the Thames Sunday on a royal barge at the centre of a spectacular 1,000-boat river pageant, the highpoint of celebrations to mark her diamond jubilee.

travel Updated: Jun 04, 2012 16:01 IST

Queen Elizabeth II sailed along the Thames Sunday on a royal barge at the centre of a spectacular 1,000-boat river pageant, the highpoint of celebrations to mark her diamond jubilee.

The queen travelled down the river on the red-and-gold Spirit of Chartwell amid a water-borne procession of kayaks, steamers and tugs.

More than a million spectators lined the banks of the river to cheer the 86-year-old monarch, who is only the second British monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee, after queen Victoria.

Heavy rain cleared for the start of the pageant before returning later, though it had no effect on the enthusiasm of the cheering crowds. However, a planned flypast had to be cancelled because of low visibility.

The river pageant was the main event of four days of celebrations for the 60th year of the queen's reign and street parties were held around the country.

The heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla dropped in on one street party in Piccadilly in central London and chatted with residents.

The pageant -- the biggest event on the Thames for 350 years -- started with the ringing of eight Jubilee bells on a barge and ended several hours later when the last boats completed the 11-kilometre (seven-mile) journey.

The queen, wearing a white hat and a silver and white coat and dress designed by Angela Kelly, was ferried to the barge on the launch of the Royal Yacht Britannia, the ship she dearly loved which was decommissioned in 1997.

She and her husband Prince Philip travelled at the front of the ceremonial barge, frequently waving to the crowds, and laughing and joking with the other royals.

Also on board were Prince William and his wife Catherine, who wore a vivid red dress by Alexander McQueen, the same designer who created her wedding gown.

Spectators lining the banks of the Thames cheered loudly when the royal barge came into sight.

"The atmosphere was brilliant, everyone seemed in a good mood. The queen's boat was beautiful, really colourful, and Kate looked lovely in red," said Barbara Barke, a pensioner from Essex, eastern England.

Behind the queen's barge was massed a flotilla of speedboats, firefighting tugs and historic vessels, including Dunkirk "little ships" that evacuated British forces from continental Europe in World War II.

"It's glorious. It's a momentous occasion. It makes you proud to be a Brit," said Neil Munn, who works in advertising and watched the pageant with his wife and four daughters from Battersea.

"We're here to salute the queen after 60 years' hard work."

The armada was led by the belfry barge, then Gloriana, a rowbarge crewed by quadruple Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave and injured servicemen.

As the royal barge approached, Tower Bridge opened, lifting its bascules in its own tribute to the monarch.

Several hundred anti-monarchist protesters held a demonstration along the route, but they were booed and had their chants drowned out with renditions of "God Save The Queen".

The members of the campaign group Republic waved placards declaring "Citizens, not subjects" and "We want a vote, not a boat".

But they face an uphill task -- the jubilee celebrations come as the royal family enjoys its highest support for decades.

Nicola Holder, a retired community worker from Devon in southwest England, braved the rain and camped out overnight along the Thames to get a good view of the monarch as she passed by.

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

The jubilee festivities began on Saturday when the queen, a keen horse racing fan, attended the Epsom Derby.

On Monday, a star-studded concert in her honour takes place in the shadow of Buckingham Palace featuring Beatles star Paul McCartney, before a ceremonial parade is held on Tuesday.

First Published: Jun 04, 2012 16:01 IST