The weather was horrid; driving rain and cold temperatures combined to create perfectly miserable conditions. But no one was put off by the weather–after all, they’re prepared, having endured a relentlessly cold, rainy spring. According to the Telegraph, “Early estimates suggested that despite steady rain throughout the day, even more people turned out to watch the river pageant than were on the streets for last year’s Royal wedding. They were joined by six million more enjoying street parties up and down the country and a predicted global TV audience of two billion watching the biggest event staged on the Thames for 350 years.”
All eyes, of course, were on the Queen. Well, those that could see anything in the conditions. Gordon Rayner of the Telegraph did a good job of capturing the fashion scene: “Her ivory coloured boucle dress and coat, braided with silk ribbon and with a silk organza frill, was created by her dresser Angela Kelly and included a clever nod to the Queen’s three major jubilees. Her coat was embroidered with gold and silver spots and embellished with crystals to represent diamonds.” There was no sun to reflect the crystals, but her “beret on steroids” hat made her stand out in the driving rain.
As for the flotilla itself, which looked like a modern day Canaletto, bathed in colour with the gilt bow of the royal barge glinting softly, it started off strong, before the rain started pouring down. The Queen and Prince Philip looked so happy on the old launch from the royal launch Britannia, on their way to the specially-built barge. Watching the volunteer lifeboats, the 30-odd remnants of the famous Dunkirk fleet of the Second World War and other historic vessels was an amazing sight. For the boats operating on human power, such as the Maori rowers from New Zealand and Abreast from the West dragon boat from British Columbia, it was an endurance challenge as they had to keep to a proscribed pace for a 22 km stretch.
But the pomp and pageantry couldn’t be sustained: all that seemed to be left near the end were private pleasure crafts trudging along at the rear, with no explanation as to why they were “worthy” of the Thames flotilla. Still, that’s a minor quibble on what was a truly great undertaking.