Sunday, June 3, 2012

Crowds brave rain for Queen Elizabeth's giant jubilee armada

LONDON (Reuters) - Queen Elizabeth joined a spectacular armada of 1,000 vessels on Sunday for the most dazzling display of British pageantry seen on London's River Thames for 350 years, watched by cheering crowds celebrating her 60th year on the throne.

Pealing bells greeted the flotilla as the queen's gilded royal barge sailed alongside a colorful and eclectic array of boats from leisure cruisers and yachts to a Hawaiian war canoe and Venetian gondolas.

Typically inclement British weather failed to dampen enthusiasm, with hundreds of thousands of onlookers, waving "Union Jack" flags, massed on the riverbanks to catch a glimpse of the procession along the seven mile (11 km route).

The queen, wearing a silver and white dress with a matching coat, smiled broadly and waved to the crowds from the royal barge, "The Spirit of Chartwell", alongside her 90-year-old husband Prince Philip.

They were accompanied on the barge by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, his eldest son Prince William and new wife Kate, a global fashion trendsetter who wore a vivid red Alexander McQueen dress and matching hat.

Up and down the country, organizers said millions of people attended diamond jubilee street parties in honor of the 86-year-old sovereign, the only British monarch after Queen Victoria to have sat on the throne for 60 years.

"We're English, we know what the weather is like. We really don't care if we get wet you know - it's the jubilee, it's the queen, so it's nice to come up and celebrate it," said Jackie, a 39-year-old sales consultant who travelled across southern England to watch the Thames pageant.

From New Zealand Maoris who paddled their canoe wearing traditional cloaks to sailors and people dressed as pirates, the flotilla boasted a colorful array of participants from every corner of the planet.
There were even vessels from the 1940 evacuation of British and Allied troops from Dunkirk in northern France - a famous rescue performed by crafts of all shapes and sizes and a celebrated piece of British history.

Organizers said Sunday's river pageant, reminiscent of a Canaletto canvas from the 18th century, was the largest of its kind since a similar spectacle was held for King Charles II and his consort Catherine of Braganza in 1662.

©Reuters/Pool Photos

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