LONDON (Reuters) -Tens of thousands of royal supporters lined the streets of London on Thursday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee and kick off four days of pomp, parties and parades to mark her record-breaking 70 years on the British throne.
Millions of people across Britain and the world are expected to join the festivities in honour of the 96-year-old, who has reigned for longer than any of her predecessors, the government said.
“Thank you to everyone who has been involved in convening communities, families, neighbours and friends to mark my Platinum Jubilee, in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth,” Elizabeth said in a statement.
“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me, and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
In brilliant sunshine, families and friends gathered on the main grand roads running up to Buckingham Palace, cheering the regimental marching bands, waving Union flags and wearing paper crowns. Many had slept on the streets to secure a good position.
Others descended on nearby parks to enjoy picnics and follow the proceedings on big screens.
At least two people briefly caused a disturbance by running out in front of marching soldiers on the Mall boulevard before they were dragged away by police. Police said a number of arrests had been made for public order offences.
In a sign of the monarch’s advancing years and recent “episodic mobility” issues which have led her to cancel some engagements, Elizabeth’s personal involvement in the events will be somewhat limited compared with previous major gatherings.
The celebrations begin with the Trooping the Colour military parade in central London, and for the first time Elizabeth will take the salute from the 1,500 soldiers and officers from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
The arrival of the first senior royals in a carriage – Kate, the wife of Prince William, her three young children and Camilla, the wife of heir to the throne Prince Charles – were met with loud cheers.
Charles, son William and the queen’s daughter Anne arrived on horseback.
Other senior royals, including son and heir Prince Charles, 73, and his eldest son Prince William, 39, will carry out other ceremonial duties on the queen’s behalf, although much attention will be focused on those who will not be present.
Second son Prince Andrew, 62, who settled a U.S. lawsuit in February in which he was accused of sexually abusing a woman when she was underage, is not expected to attend.
Her grandson Prince Harry, now living in Los Angeles with his American wife Meghan, will attend the parade but will be absent when the royal family gathers on the palace balcony to watch a fly-past by modern and historic Royal Air Force planes after the parade.
There will also be gun salutes in London, across Britain and from Royal Navy ships at sea at midday, while in the evening beacons will be lit across the country and the Commonwealth, with the queen leading the lighting of the Principal Platinum Jubilee Beacon at her Windsor Castle home.
Thursday marks not only the start of the Jubilee, but also the 69th anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth, who became queen on the death of her father George VI in Feb. 1952.
Polls show she remains hugely popular and respected among her subjects, with one survey this week showing eight in 10 people held a positive view of her, and another found three-quarters thought she had done a good job as queen.
“I cannot think of any other public figure, any other celebrity, any other president … who could possibly have remained so popular,” former Prime Minister John Major told BBC radio.
“Her life has been played out in public – the highs, the lows, the good bits and not so good bits. The queen has represented our better selves for over 70 years,” said Major, one of 14 leaders to have served under Elizabeth.
Not everyone will be joining in the festivities though. Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic, which is putting up the message “Make Elizabeth the last” on billboards across Britain, said a survey showed more than half of the public were not interested in the jubilee.
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