'Theater' On The Thames Marks Queen's 60 Years

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The queen of England this year marks 60 years on the throne, and Buckingham Palace is coordinating a week of events, including a concert at the palace and a 1,000-boat flotilla along the River Thames. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is indeed a celebration fit for a queen, one who has been on the throne in England for 60 years. Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee celebrations continue today, and NPR's Philip Reeves is following all the festivities.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Queen Elizabeth arrives at the River Thames to begin her journey; the fanfares and cheers and a steam train in full voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN HORN)

REEVES: This is in Britain, a long weekend of festivities to celebrate her diamond jubilee. Today's pageant along the River Thames is the highlight. The last time London saw anything like this, Charles II was on the throne.

ADRIAN EVANS: This hasn't been attempted for 350 years.

REEVES: Adrian Evans, the pageant master, has been planning this for two years.

EVANS: It's a piece of theater on the water and we mustn't forget it. It's not simply a procession of boats. There are 10 music barges, a fabulous belfry at the front. We got a London philharmonic orchestra at the back and in the middle we've got bagpipes, we've got brass bands, we've got all sorts.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REEVES: It is a cold, dripping day in London, but that didn't dampen the festive mood. The queen, clad in white, boarded her big, gilded barge and set sail amid a sea of flags down the gray waters of the Thames to cheers and bells.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

REEVES: Vessels large and small, chugged, steamed and paddled through the heart of London, ending their journey at Tower Bridge. The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, are sailing through the capital on the royal barge. Accompanying them is vast armada, 1,000 boats in all, including steamboats, lifeboats, fireboats, pleasure craft, kayaks, rowboats, tugs, and the vessel that carried the coffin of Sir Winston Churchill up the Thames at his state funeral in 1965. Churchill was prime minister when the queen came to the throne 60 years ago. The crowd includes Edward Brewster. Mr. Brewster, why are you here?

EDWARD BREWSTER: I think the truth of it is, this is a once in a lifetime, you know, event and a once in a lifetime chance to come and see it. There's lots of colors, lots of flags. There's lots of bunting. But even as you're driving in through the streets, there's bunting, there's roads closed for street parties. So the sense of it is all, you know, there's lots of energy all around.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE ARGUING)

REEVES: This diamond jubilee has reignited debate in Britain about the monarchy. The queen is enjoying a big spike in her popularity, yet there is a vocal minority who believe Britain would be better off as a republic. Some are holding protests along the Thames today. Among the monarchy's most passionate critics is the columnist, Polly Toynbee.

POLLY TOYNBEE: It makes us much less democratic. It makes us tolerate a certain degree of subservience that other republics, on the whole, don't tolerate.

REEVES: They'll be more pageantry as Britain carries on celebrating over the next few days. Tuesday, the queen and her family will attend a national service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral. Later that day, she'll ride through London by carriage to Buckingham Palace where she'll wave from the balcony.

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: The British have been rehearsing and rehearsing. That's why they're so good at this stuff. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, remembers his mother rehearsing for her coronation in 1953 by wearing her crown around the palace.

CHARLES: You have to, to learn how to wear it for longish periods 'cause it goes on, the ceremony, quite a long time, so you can end up with a terrible headache. So I remember my mother coming, you know, up when we were being bathed as children, wearing the crown. It's quite funny for practicing. That's a vivid memory, I must say.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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