Queen rules the waves on diamond jubilee as flotilla of a thousand boats takes to the Thames


EIGHTY-SIX-year-old Queen Elizabeth led a pageant of 1,000 boats of all shapes and sizes down the Thames yesterday to celebrate her 60 years on the throne.

Margaretta Soulsby, born in the same year as the queen, slept overnight in a tent erected near Tower Bridge to make sure she would have a prize vantage point for the occasion.

The queen boarded the royal barge, The Spirit of Chartwell, which is decorated in the style of a Pullman railway carriage, before joining the flotilla at 3pm behind hundreds of rowing boats.

Despite the gloom, the queen was brightly attired in a white boucle coat embroidered with gold, ivory and silver spots and embellished with Swarovski crystals to reflect the Thames.

By the end, the queen, who remained on the reviewing stand until the flotilla had passed Tower Bridge, had donned a shawl to keep off the afternoon chill.

By 5pm, officials from the Guinness Book of Records confirmed that the Diamond Pageant had broken the world record for the largest number of such craft, beating a record set last year in Bremerhaven in Germany.

The craft on the river for the pageant, the biggest held on the Thames since the 17th century, included Papillon, one of the “little ships” that rescued British forces from the Dunkirk beaches.

Like others, its skipper, Ian Gilbert, had enough to do to keep his vessel safe. “When you’re at the helm you tend to miss a lot of what’s going on,” he said.

“This isn’t going to happen again in our lifetime. I don’t think anyone will put a show like this on again in our lifetime.”

Before 5pm, a barge passed under Tower Bridge playing Greensleeves and Nimrod, while the queen and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, chatted happily.

A small group of republicans who want the monarchy replaced by an elected head of state were booed as they mounted a protest near Tower Bridge.

The hagiographic television coverage of the diamond jubilee, particularly by the BBC, was questioned by Graham Smith, chief executive of the campaign group Republic.

The BBC has a duty to do “all it can to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality” and to ensure different voices are given due weight, he said.

“For the past 18 months, our national broadcaster has sought to promote the institution and its incumbent family and to join in the royal celebrations. Rather than act as an impartial commentator, the BBC has become cheerleader-in-chief for an institution that is controversial and contested,” he said.

If celebrating royalty is a British tradition, so too are complaints about the trains and the day saw them by the score as travellers faced delays.

South West Trains were blamed for failing to lay on a sufficient service, raising fears for London’s ability to handle even bigger numbers in the forthcoming Olympics.

Intending passengers in Staines resorted to Twitter to complain that just one ticket office was open to cope with demand. In Twickenham, others were held up because passing trains were full.

“It’s been absolute chaos on what should be a proud day for Brits,” complained one.

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