There were scenes of unfettered joy and excitement in central London on Thursday as tens of thousands of well-wishers flocked to watch Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday parade which kicked off the four-day nationwide celebration for her platinum jubilee.
Royal fans of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities crammed into the streets around Buckingham Palace to experience the party atmosphere and witness a unique event.
There were tears of joy as the monarch, 96, stepped on to the palace balcony to greet the crowds, months after she first appeared frail in public.
“I got emotional,” admitted Maggie Bromham to The National after watching the spectacle from outside the palace. “It’s an absolutely beautiful celebration and it’s the best thing to bring people together.”
The queen was aided by a cane as she took centre stage on the balcony, flanked by senior members of the royal family including Prince William, his wife Kate and their children, and Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. Wearing sunglasses, the head of the royal family appeared in good spirits as she surveyed the throngs of flag-waving fans and watched the RAF flypast.
Britain is embracing the special extended bank holiday weekend of pomp, pageantry and star-studded festivities, in which celebrities and the public will gather in their millions in tribute to the monarch.
Ms Bromham, 40, who is originally from Kenya and now lives in Hertfordshire, said the queen holds a special place in her heart due to her connection to her homeland. The then-Princess Elizabeth was on a Commonwealth tour in Kenya when she received the news that her father had died and she had been handed the throne at the age of 27.
“The queen is the epitome of British culture,” said Ms Bromham.
“I brought the kids to be part of history. I dressed my daughters up as princesses. They will see it in the history books and I will be able to show them the pictures of them there.”
Dylan and Linda Jones from Bedfordshire made the 80-kilometre trek to Buckingham Palace with their daughters Lucie, 9, and Summer, 7, to give their children a chance to take part in history.
“I think it’s important for them to understand their heritage and be part of a British celebration,” Mr Jones told The National. “They are the next generation and it’s an opportunity for them to get to know about their heritage and their country.”
His wife said bringing their two little girls to witness the historic occasion would build on what they had already learnt about the monarchy in school.
“They had a little jubilee day and they have learnt about this,” she said. “We admire the queen for her hard work, duty, sacrifice and wisdom. I think she’s one of the last of that sort of calibre.”
Shortly before the Trooping the Colour parade got under way, police arrested several protesters who breached barriers. Pro-vegan, climate and animal rights campaign group Animal Rebellion said 25 of its supporters were involved in the disruption “due to the Crown's inaction on the climate emergency and their continued support for meat, fishing and dairy, a leading contributor to climate breakdown”.
Seventeen members of the royal family joined the queen on the palace balcony to watch the celebrations. Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and Prince Andrew were notable absences, as they are no longer working members of the monarchy.
On Thursday, the palace announced that Andrew, Duke of York, had tested positive for Covid-19 and therefore would not attend the jubilee service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Friday.
“After undertaking a routine test, the duke has tested positive for Covid and with regret will no longer be attending tomorrow’s service,” said a palace spokesman. It is understood Prince Andrew saw the queen in the last few days but has been undertaking regular testing and has not been in contact with her since he tested positive.
Prince Harry and Meghan were pictured chatting to relatives inside the palace before the show.
Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4, travelled with their mother Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in a horse-drawn carriage down The Mall before stepping on the balcony.
The queen was seen chatting animatedly with little Prince Louis, who covered his ears to shield himself from the roar of the planes during the flypast.
He was also spotted resting his chin on his hand and waving towards the sky as planes whizzed past overhead.
More than 70 aircraft including Apache helicopters, Typhoons and The Red Arrows took part in the six-minute platinum jubilee flypast. Planes from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force soared down The Mall and over the palace as the crowds below erupted into rapturous cheers.
The queen donned a dusky blue coat with pearl and diamante trim by Angela Kelly and a matching hat. She topped off her look with pearls, white gloves and the Guards’ Badge.
The monarch wore the same coat in her official jubilee portrait which was taken at Windsor Castle and released by the royal household on Wednesday in honour of the monarch’s 70-year reign.
On Thursday evening, the queen will lead the lighting of the principal jubilee beacon in a special dual ceremony with Prince William. She will be at Windsor Castle to symbolically touch the Commonwealth Globe of Nations while her grandson Prince William, second in line to the throne, will be at Buckingham Palace.
It will form the focal point of more than 3,500 flaming tributes being set ablaze across the UK and the Commonwealth.