LONDON (Reuters) - It was cold, wet and windy, but the typically damp British summer weather was not enough to deter more than a million people from lining the River Thames to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth float past on a gilded royal barge.
Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee flotilla of 1,000 vessels accompanying the monarch through London was the spectacular centerpiece of four days of celebrations designed to mark the queen’s 60 years on the throne, the only British monarch to do so other than Queen Victoria.
Underlining her popularity across Britain and abroad, people of all ages poured into the capital, festooned with Union Jack paraphernalia and dressed as pirates, sailors and historical figures.
“It’s not English without rain. It rained at the coronation!” said Nina Campbell, an interior designer who was watching from Lambeth bridge and also witnessed the queen’s 1953 coronation river pageant from the nearby Houses of Parliament.
The monarch ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952 and was formally crowned the following year. Her 25th and 50th years as sovereign were also marked by nationwide jubilee celebrations.
“It’s the most boats on the Thames in 300 years. It’s insane. Braving the weather is what we do best,” said 22-year-old freelance illustrator Hattie Hyder from Dorking, summing up the feel-good mood along the grey waters of the Thames.
Onlookers dressed in outfits dusted off for big royal occasions like jubilees, weddings and coronations.
The red, white and blue of the Union Jack flag was everywhere, including painted on children’s faces.
Umbrellas went up halfway through the flotilla’s passage along the seven mile route passing under 14 bridges, as light drizzle turned into a torrential downpour.
Children perched on their fathers’ shoulders to get a better view of the huge procession of vessels ranging from leisure cruisers and yachts to rowing boats and Venetian gondolas.
“We love the new royals, today’s Diamond jubilee celebration is a great chance for everyone to mark the queen’s reign,” said Carolyn Parkinson-Swift, 48, who came from Blackpool in northern England with her niece and family friends at 6 a.m.
Some enthusiasts camped overnight along the pier to guarantee a prime viewing position.
Victoria Aitken, sporting a curly blue and red wig, was preparing early morning breakfast of eggs and bacon on a travel cooker for her six-year-old goddaughter Millie Greenwood after spending the night in a tent.
“We Yorkshire girls love our Queen, don’t we?” she joked.
The star attraction of the day was the queen, but she was swiftly followed by the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, who since her marriage to Prince William last year has become an international trendsetter and A-list celebrity.
The 30-year-old wore a bright red dress and matching hat, in keeping with the red-and gold finery of the main royal barge carrying her, the queen and other leading royals.
Whether the family noticed a small but vocal protest led by the Republic campaign group near Tower Bridge was unclear.
More than 100 demonstrators calling for the end of the monarchy waved banners reading “Votes not Boats” and “Make Monarchy History”.
Broadcasters and “tweeters” paid tribute to the fortitude of the crowds, officially estimated at 1.2 million strong, but credit also went to the 86-year-old queen and her family.
Even after she disembarked from her barge to a reviewing stand to inspect the flotilla as it crept past in lashing rain, Elizabeth managed to keep smiling.
Royals around her, including 90-year-old husband Prince Philip, even jigged to the strains of “Rule Britannia” as the final vessel carrying a choir of drenched singers floated by.
Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato