From the Royal Over-Seas League’s boat, which was moored next to Westminster Bridge in preparation for joining its section of the pageant, we were afforded an unbeatable view of the rest of the flotilla.
Against the spectacular backdrop of the Houses of Parliament we watched the magnificent procession sail down the Thames: first the cleverly rigged belfry, its joyous peals heralding the awe-inspiring sight to come, then a sudden cascade of small boats, their rowers all smiling and calling to each other as they made their way towards the bridge. The sheer number of participants was overwhelming, and the water was almost completely obscured by oars and colourful boats.
What quickly became apparent was that, despite the solemnity and import of the occasion, the British sense of humour could not be suppressed. Rowers exchanged jokes with the stationary boats and we waved, cheered and joked in return. Particular sympathy was given to the lone man in a kayak, with whom we wished we could share our champagne!
As the last of the small boats departed, a frisson of excitement went through our party as we heard the fanfare that announced the Royal boats. The sight of The Spirit of Chartwell gliding majestically – and it is only now that I truly appreciate what that word means – downriver is something that I will never forget. Although Her Majesty’s attention was more fixed on the MPs opposite, we were awarded sunny smiles from the radiant Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
The rest of the pageant passed by in an exuberant stream of large and small boats. Particularly memorable were the Dunkirk ships, which looked almost too small and vulnerable to have achieved such an incredible feat, and the Academy of Ancient music, which played hauntingly beautiful music that echoed down the river and reminded us of the millenia of history that had led up to this glorious moment.
Finally, it was our turn to join in the procession and, despite the now pouring rain, we braved the prow of the ship to wave to those watching from the river bank. It was heartening to see that so many had stayed despite the weather, and a friend and I could not resist renacting the prow scene from the Titanic film to keep them entertained!
Passing through Tower Bridge, joking that The Queen must have retired for a well-earned cup of tea, we were shocked and delighted to see the Royal Barge on our left and The Queen, looking entirely unruffled despite the British weather, waving at us from the top. To witness first hand such incredible grace and attention to duty, qualities which undoubtedly inspired so many people to turn out to celebrate with The Queen yesterday, was a truly humbling experience. Having reigned over us for 60 years with such dedication and panache, Her Majesty deserved every second of the adulation that was offered to her yesterday, and I can only hope that she enjoyed the pageant as much as I did.