London, United Kingdom (AFP) — Tens of thousands of people applauded Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday as she kicked off the first of four days of celebrations marking her record 70 years on the throne.
The 96-year-old royal’s Platinum Jubilee appearance – a milestone never before achieved by a British monarch – had been in doubt due to illness and recent mobility issues.
But dressed in dove blue, her hands clasped on a cane, she appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to salute after the centuries-old Trooping the Color military parade.
After gunfire and a flyover by military planes, she made a second appearance on the balcony with her immediate heirs, Princes Charles, William and George, and close family members.
In glorious sunshine, the mall below was awash in red, white and blue union flags, with diehard royal fans camping out for days to be in prime position for the display of pomp and ceremony. the apparatus.
But many recognized the coming end of an era in what some believe to be the last big public event in his long reign.
“We know this is a special occasion as this may be the last day we will see Her Majesty at a public event,” Gilbert Falconer, a 65-year-old paramedic, told AFP after traveling from Scotland.
Harry, Meghan low profile
Recognition of the Queen’s unprecedented reign has seen tributes from political and religious leaders around the world, including Pope Francis and US President Joe Biden.
The leader of the pro-Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, hailed the Queen’s “significant” contribution to the peace process.
O’Neill’s letter would have been unthinkable before the 1998 peace accord that ended years of violence against British rule.
Sinn Fein was the political wing of the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group, which blasted the Queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979.
The Queen, an avid horsewoman, has already taken the salute in person at Horse Guards Parade, the site minutes from the mall where King Henry VIII jousted.
But his 73-year-old son and heir, Prince Charles, stepped in this year, in the latest public sign of his future role as king.
Joining him in the parade of the color or regimental color of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards were his sister Princess Anne, 71, and eldest son Prince William, 39, both in ceremonial uniform.
Royals watching included Charles’ youngest son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, on a rare visit from California.
They have kept a low profile while the Queen’s disgraced second son, Prince Andrew, 62, has not been seen. The palace later said he had contracted COVID and would not be at a Thanksgiving service on Saturday.
The Queen will be at Windsor Castle, west London, on Thursday evening to take part in a lighting ceremony for more than 3,000 beacons across Britain and the Commonwealth of the 54 nations she leads.
Elizabeth was a 25-year-old princess when she succeeded her father, King George VI, in 1952, bringing a rare touch of glamor to a battered nation recovering from World War II.
Seventy years later, she is now the only monarch most Britons have ever known, and an enduring figurehead through often troubled times.
Britain’s first and quite possibly only platinum jubilee will see street parties, pop concerts and parades until Sunday.
It has not yet been confirmed whether she will attend Saturday’s Thanksgiving service, while her scheduled attendance at The Derby horse racing showcase on Saturday is cancelled.
She could still make one final appearance – again from the palace balcony – on Sunday, at the climax of a huge public spectacle involving 6,000 performers.
On Wednesday, the Queen thanked everyone involved in organizing community events in Britain and around the world, and said she was “inspired by the goodwill” shown to her.
“I hope the next few days will be an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved over the past 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm,” she added.
“Celebrate the Queen”
The jubilee, held amid rising inflation that has left many Britons struggling, is seen as a respite for the public after two years of COVID and in the face of troubling world events.
“All the horrors that have happened in the world are set aside for us for a day and we can just enjoy celebrating the Queen,” said Hillary Matthews, 70.
But the jubilee will also be a welcome return to normality for the royal family.
Harry, 37, and Meghan, 40, caused shock waves in early 2020 when they moved to North America, from where they publicly criticized royal life.
In April last year, the Queen lost her 73-year-old husband Prince Philip and was forced to sit alone at his funeral due to coronavirus restrictions.
Since then, she has struggled with her health, as well as the fallout from Andrew’s ties to convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
Andrew, who in February settled a US civil suit for sexual assault, has effectively been stripped of his royal duties.