River Pageant Pays Tribute To Queen's Jubilee

Britons are halfway through a four-day holiday celebrating Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne. On Sunday, the queen led a flotilla of a thousand boats on the Thames — described as the largest such river pageant in more than 300 years.


Bad economic headlines have not stopped the celebration in Britain. Britons are in the midst of a four-day holiday celebrating Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne. And yesterday the queen herself led a flotilla of a thousand boats on the Thames. It was described as the largest such river pageant in more than 300 years, and Vicki Barker was there.


VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Queen Elizabeth stepped off dry land wearing white and silver, a white shawl protecting the royal shoulders from the spring chill. The river pageant was a deliberate evocation of her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I. Under the Elizabethans, the Thames was the setting for a spectacular procession celebrating English wealth and victories and traditions - for today's Brits a chance to forget for a while tough economic times.


BARKER: About a mile downriver at Battersea Park, onlooker Richie Stewart and his friends waited patiently on a long line for a warming cup of coffee.

RICHIE STEWART: Being British, we see no problem in queuing for over an hour, because that's how we're raised.


BARKER: On a barge just off the park, eight bells cast just for the occasion began pealing to the waiting crowds. First came a colorful flotilla of human-powered boats, some gilded veterans of past river pageants. Then 54 tiny motorboats with young sea cadets holding the flags of the British Commonwealth.


BARKER: Children on their parents' shoulders caught the first site of the royal vessel.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I see the queen.

BARKER: The crimson and gold royal barge, bestrewn with flowers from the queen's own garden. A tiny figure in white waved a white gloved hand.

A uniformed Prince William and his wife Kate in a bright red dress rode with the queen. There were dunker boats, some of the private pleasure craft that rescued the British army from the French beaches in 1940. There were working boats and narrow canal boats and big excursion boats.


BARKER: Each new category heralded by onboard musicians. The onlookers came in all sizes, colors, shapes, and ages too. Two grand looking ladies stood in the crowd, each incongruously holding a child's plastic bucket. Helen and Juliet - as they were of a class and generation that do not share last names with journalists - could remember the queen's coronation in 1953.

HELEN: Most people in Britain, that was when they bought a television for the first time.

JULIET: Everybody cooked coronation chicken 'cause it's something they could prepare in advance and eat on the day.

BARKER: Then the two ladies upturned their buckets and stepped decorously upon them to see above the crowd to the river and the glittering pageantry beyond. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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