Queen Elizabeth II cautiously climbed the balcony of Buckingham Palace on Thursday, drawing intense cheers from the tens of thousands who came to join her at the start of four days of celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the throne.
Her fans wore Union Jack flags, party hats, or plastic tiaras. Some had camped all night hoping for a glimpse of a 96-year-old queen, whose appearance has become a rarity, and a chance to witness Trooping the Color – a military parade that has celebrated the official birthdays of both sovereigns since 1760.
It was an explosion of exhilaration in the huge crowd, one of the first large gatherings in the UK since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone has the same mission,” said Hilary Matthews, 70, who came from Hertfordshire outside London. “All the atrocities that were happening in the world and in England at the moment have been given up for one day, and we can only really enjoy the celebration of the Queen.”
Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, the longest-reigning British monarch and the first to accede to the throne at the age of seven decades.
However, after a good healthy life, age began to catch up with her. Buckingham Palace announced late Thursday that the Queen would not attend Friday’s Thanksgiving service after feeling “some discomfort” at the events on Thursday. The palace said “with great hesitation” that the king decided to skip mass at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Queen has had difficulty navigating in recent months, and has withdrawn from many public events.
But on Thursday night Elizabeth was involved in lighting a series of ceremonial beacons at Windsor Castle as planned.
Jubilee festivities continue into a long weekend, and it was not immediately known how the news would affect Jubilee events on Saturday and Sunday.
The palace says “the Queen has enjoyed a lot” of Thursday’s events – and it has shown.
Enjoyed her moment. Smiling, she spoke with her grandson Prince Louis, 4, who occasionally covered his ears as 70 old and new military planes pounced on the palace to greet the Queen. The six-minute show featured a formation of Typhoon fighter jets flying in the shape of the Number 70.
Wearing a navy blue Angela Kelly dress, the Queen was joined on the balcony by more than a dozen royals – but not Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, who abandoned their frontline royal duties two years ago. The couple traveled to London from their California home with their two young children to take a small part in the festivities, and on Thursday watched Trooping the Color with other family members.
They did not appear on the balcony of the palace, because the king decided that only members of the royal family should receive this honor. The decision also easily excluded Prince Andrew, who had relinquished his public duties amid controversy over his links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Andrew will also miss Friday’s Thanksgiving service after he tested positive for COVID-19.
The jubilee is celebrated with a wonderful four-day holiday and events including a concert at Buckingham Palace on Saturday and a competition organized by thousands of artists from schools and community groups across the country on Sunday. Thousands of street parties are planned across the country, repeating a tradition that began with the coronation of the Queen in 1953.
Not everyone celebrates in Britain. Lots of people take advantage of the long weekend to go on vacation. Twelve protesters were arrested Thursday after they crossed the roadblocks and on the parade route. Animal Rebellion claimed responsibility, saying the protesters were “demanding the restoration of royal lands”.
However, the jubilee gives many people – even those indifferent to the monarchy – a chance to reflect on the state of the nation and the massive changes that have occurred during Elizabeth’s reign.
Former Prime Minister John Major, one of the Queen’s 14 prime ministers, said the monarch’s stern presence has helped steer the country for decades.
“The Queen has represented ourselves for more than 70 years,” he told the BBC.
In a letter written to mark the jubilee, the Queen thanked the people in Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations involved in organizing the festivities. This country loves a good party.
“I know that many happy memories will be created on these festive occasions,” Elizabeth said. “I am still inspired by the goodwill you have shown me, and I hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved over the past seventy years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
Congratulations have arrived from world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. French President Emmanuel Macron described Elizabeth as the “golden thread that connects our two countries,” and former President Barack Obama referred to the Queen’s “blessing and generosity” during his first visit to the palace.
“Your life has been a gift, not only to the UK but to the world,” Obama told the BBC.
Cheers and hooves rang out on Thursday as horse-drawn carriages ferried members of the royal family, including Prince William’s wife Kate, and their children Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4. From Buckingham Palace to Horseguards Parade, a ceremonial parade ground about 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) away, for Tropping the Color.
The annual tradition is a ceremonial reenactment of the way the battle flags or colors were displayed to soldiers to ensure that they would recognize a crucial rally point if they became disoriented in combat.
Prince Charles, the 73-year-old heir to the throne, played a key role during Thursday’s event as he stood up for his mother – as he has often done lately.
Charles, dressed in his ceremonial military uniform, rode on the parade ground on horseback and saluted the passing troops in their scarlet attire and bearskin hats. He was flanked by his sister, Princess Anne, and his eldest son, Prince William.
Tens of thousands of locals and tourists lined the road between the palace and the parade ground to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere.
Celia Lord, 60, said: “I was right up front… I’m so proud of the Queen. She’s been my queen my whole life and I think we owe her a lot for the service she’s given to a country. So I wanted to come here to show my support today and say thank you.”
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