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Queen Sails Through Diamond Jubilee

  • Queen Elizabeth II sailed down the River Thames on Sunday amid a motley but majestic flotilla of 1,000 vessels, mustered to mark her 60 years on the British throne.
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    Queen Elizabeth II sailed down the River Thames on Sunday amid a motley but majestic flotilla of 1,000 vessels, mustered to mark her 60 years on the British throne.
    Matt Cardy/Getty Images
  • The pageant was a nod to Britain's maritime heritage and was one of the biggest events on the river for centuries.
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    The pageant was a nod to Britain's maritime heritage and was one of the biggest events on the river for centuries.
    Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
  • The queen traveled aboard the royal barge Spirit of Chartwell, decorated for the occasion in rich red, gold and purple velvet.
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    The queen traveled aboard the royal barge Spirit of Chartwell, decorated for the occasion in rich red, gold and purple velvet.
    Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
  • The queen wore a silver and white dress and matching coat — embroidered with gold, silver and ivory spots and embellished with Swarovski crystals to evoke the river — for her trip.
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    The queen wore a silver and white dress and matching coat — embroidered with gold, silver and ivory spots and embellished with Swarovski crystals to evoke the river — for her trip.
    Chris Jackson/Getty Images
  • The queen's grandson Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge — he in his Royal Air Force uniform, she in a red Alexander McQueen dress — and William's brother, Prince Harry, were among senior royals who joined the queen and her husband, Prince Philip.
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    The queen's grandson Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge — he in his Royal Air Force uniform, she in a red Alexander McQueen dress — and William's brother, Prince Harry, were among senior royals who joined the queen and her husband, Prince Philip.
    Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images
  • Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, also joined the queen for the diamond Jubilee pageant.
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    Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, also joined the queen for the diamond Jubilee pageant.
    Bethany Clarke/AP
  • Crowds swelled into the thousands, with revelers in hats, flags, leggings and rain ponchos adorned with the Union flag mixing with burger and cotton-candy vendors along the 7-mile route along the Thames.
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    Crowds swelled into the thousands, with revelers in hats, flags, leggings and rain ponchos adorned with the Union flag mixing with burger and cotton-candy vendors along the 7-mile route along the Thames.
    Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images
  • The four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations also include thousands of street parties across the country.
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    The four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations also include thousands of street parties across the country.
    Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images
  • The festivities mark only the second time in its history the U.K. has celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch.
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    The festivities mark only the second time in its history the U.K. has celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch.
    Sang Tan/AP
  • Hundreds of thousands of Union Jack-waving spectators formed a red, white and blue wave along London's riverbanks and bridges, cheering the 86-year-old monarch and her armada of motorboats, rowboats and sailboats of all shapes and sizes.
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    Hundreds of thousands of Union Jack-waving spectators formed a red, white and blue wave along London's riverbanks and bridges, cheering the 86-year-old monarch and her armada of motorboats, rowboats and sailboats of all shapes and sizes.
    Eddie Mulholland/AFP/Getty Images
  • Large crowds turned out despite cold, drizzly weather to fete a queen who has assumed the status of nation's grandmother.
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    Large crowds turned out despite cold, drizzly weather to fete a queen who has assumed the status of nation's grandmother.
    Paul Hackett/AFP/Getty Images
  • Catherine's siblings, Pippa and James Middleton, also rode with the Spirit of Chartwell during the pageant.
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    Catherine's siblings, Pippa and James Middleton, also rode with the Spirit of Chartwell during the pageant.
    Chris Jackson/Getty Images
  • Princess Anne, the queen's daughter, joined the cruise. British monarchs used the Thames as their main highway for centuries, and naval power built the island nation's once-great empire.
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    Princess Anne, the queen's daughter, joined the cruise. British monarchs used the Thames as their main highway for centuries, and naval power built the island nation's once-great empire.
    Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
  • River processions were once common in London. The last comparable royal pageant was held for King Charles II in 1662, when diarist Samuel Pepys recorded boats so numerous he could "see no water."
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    River processions were once common in London. The last comparable royal pageant was held for King Charles II in 1662, when diarist Samuel Pepys recorded boats so numerous he could "see no water."
    Eddie Mulholland/AFP/Getty Images
  • The queen took the throne in 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI, and most Britons have known no other monarch.
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    The queen took the throne in 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI, and most Britons have known no other monarch.
    Eddie Mulholland/AFP/Getty Images

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Thousands are crowding the banks of the Thames today to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth leading a flotilla of a thousand boats to mark her 60-year reign.

Her gilded barge is the centerpiece of what organizers are calling the biggest pageant on the river in 350 years. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports from London, a 41-gun salute echoed over the city this morning, launching what will be several days of festivities.

Pageant Master Adrian Evans has been planning Sunday's event for two years, as he told Reeves:

"It's a piece of theater on the water, and we mustn't forget that. It's not simply a question of boats. There are 10 music barges, a fabulous belfry at the front. We've got the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the back, and in the middle, we've got bagpipes, we've got brass bands. We've got all sorts."

The 86-year-old queen sails in the royal barge with her husband, Prince Philip as well as Prince William, his wife, Catherine, and his brother, Prince Harry. The armada includes more barges, pleasure craft, tugs, steamers, naval boats, tallships, kayaks — and the vessel that, at his state funeral, carried the coffin of Winston Churchill, the prime minister when Elizabeth took the throne 60 years ago.

The barge itself, as NPR's Larry Miller reports, began life as a River Thames sightseeing boat. It took six painstaking months to refit it for royalty, but now the 210-foot-long Spirit of Chartwell has been lavishly decorated with replica carvings. Not even the morning's cold, dripping rain could dampen the color scheme of red, gold and purple, resembling the royal barges of centuries past.

Heard On 'Weekend Edition Sunday'

The queen of England marks 60 years on the throne, and Buckingham Palace is coordinating a week of events. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

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

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