A visitor’s guide to the Diamond Jubilee
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh stand on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the Queen's Coronation in 1953. (PA Wire)
This year, the United Kingdom’s 62 million residents are marking the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s rule with once-in-a-lifetime pageants, street parties and museum exhibitions, giving visitors a rare glimpse of British patriotism.
Queen Elizabeth took to the throne in 1952, though her formal coronation happened the following year. Six decades later, the world’s most widely recognised monarch and the only royal other than Queen Victoria to serve 60 years on the English throne, is being honoured with a year-long calendar of events known as the Diamond Jubilee. The celebrations will grab headlines throughout the summer, but the pinnacle of the Jubilee will take place in London between 2 and 5 June, when a flotilla of 1,000 boats -- including a royal barge bearing the Queen -- will sail down the River Thames, and a chain of 3,000 beacons -- a mix of modern flame-generating devices and traditional bonfires -- will be lit around the world at various manmade and natural landmarks.
No country on earth does pomp and circumstance as charmingly as the United Kingdom, which is why two-and-a-half million overseas visitors are forecast to descend upon London this June. The event also offers the rare chance of seeing the Queen in person – an 86-year-old, corgi-loving great-grandmother who many locals admire for her graceful, restrained behaviour through decades of service. Here are a few highlights worth attending.
A seven-mile flotilla
On 3 June, the United Kingdom will assemble a seven-mile long flotilla to sail down the Thames -- a display that is meant to reflect the nation’s maritime heritage. A royal barge, the retrofitted Spirit of Chartwell, will ferry the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, while another vessel will hold the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Nearly 20,000 other sailors and spectators will float by in the other boats, including a few of the ships that rescued British troops in World War II's Battle of Dunkirk. Daytime fireworks and other pyrotechnics are also planned.
Up to one million spectators will line London’s riverbanks and bridges between Wandsworth and the Tower of London, with about 50 giant BBC TV screens along the route broadcasting the event. (There will also be TVs in 21 other UK destinations and in the US, viewers can watch on BBC America.) The flotilla will commence at high tide, 2:40 pm, but visitors will need to stake out their places much earlier. Some prime viewing spots will be on the Victoria Embankment, north of the Thames near Westminster, along South Bank and at Battersea Park. Lambeth, Westminster and Blackfriars bridges will be the only bridges open to spectators.
Nationwide on 3 June, hundreds of towns across the UK will hold afternoon street parties for a coordinated event called the Big Lunch, with neighbours serving quintessential British items like a Victoria sponge (two sponge cakes layered with a cream-and-berry centre). For out-of-towners, the most welcoming parties will be on Piccadilly in the West End, and at Hampton Court in Richmond, about 40 minutes from London by train.
Also on 3 June, festivals will take place across the capital city. In South London, Battersea Park’s Diamond Jubilee Festival will showcase British pop culture from the past 60 years, with activities such as vintage clothing makeovers. Expect live performances of nostalgia-inducing music by professional entertainers, with locals undoubtedly belting out “God Save the Queen” at the park’s pop-up pub. Over in Hyde Park on 2 and 3 June, the Jubilee Family Festival will draw up to 50,000 visitors with amusement rides for children.
On 4 June, a chain of 3,800 beacons will be set alight in former British territories. Tonga, a Commonwealth nation in the South Pacific, will be the first to light a beacon. Then, as night falls in successive time zones, lights will sequentially shine in places such as Sydney, Hong Kong and New Delhi.