Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations draw to close

June 5, 2012

The curtain fell Tuesday on a four-day extravaganza marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne, culminating with deafening applause from the hundreds of thousands who gathered outside Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the monarch on her world-famous balcony.

Britons tend to reserve displays of gushing patriotism for high-profile royal or sporting events, and at times during the jubilee festivities the landscape here almost morphed into a sea of Union Jack flags.

Millions of people braved rainy conditions (another great British tradition) to take in the largest pageant on the Thames in 350 years, street parties across the country, and a star-studded concert featuring the likes of Paul McCartney and Elton John.

But the mood was notably dampened when Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, was hospitalized Monday for a bladder infection.

The day before, the 90-year-old royal consort stood for four hours on an open-topped boat in blustery conditions, prompting commentators to ask whether the journey was too taxing for the former naval officer, who spent Christmas in the hospital recovering from a heart operation.

The indefatigable queen pressed on with events. With her husband hospitalized, she was accompanied Tuesday by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, in a horse-drawn carriage procession through central London. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, traveled close behind in a second carriage.

In a rare address to the nation, broadcast Tuesday evening, the 86-year-old monarch, who is as popular as she has ever been, said the outpouring of public support had “touched me deeply.”

In one of the most moving tributes to the queen, Charles, the heir to the throne, addressed her as “Your Majesty, Mummy,” before a crowd of about 500,000 revelers at the pop concert Monday night. “This is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us,” he said, “for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud to be British.”

Referring to his father, Charles told the crowd: “If we shout loud enough, he might just hear us in hospital.” The crowd roared: “Philip! Philip! Philip!”

While the queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee throughout the year, the past four days were billed as the main event. It included the lighting of 4,200 beacons across the globe from Kenya to Canada and on the highest peaks in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some have criticized the glitzy celebrations at a time when Britain is in the throes of a recession, but many have welcomed them as a short reprieve from the gloomy headlines.

“It’s magical,” said Lynn Carr, 45, with her head cranked skyward as planes from the Royal Air Force roared over Buckingham Palace on Tuesday streaming red, white and blue trails of smoke.

“I think it’s good for the people,” said Carr, a local government official. “They need this.”

The queen is famously inscrutable, but during the wall-to-wall coverage here, royal watchers could spot her radiant smile on several occasions. She beamed, for instance, during Sunday’s river pageant upon spotting a horse puppet from the hit play “War Horse” rearing in tribute on the roof of the National Theatre.

“I think what we have seen, frankly, is the best of Britain,” Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC on Tuesday. He added that there has been “a great resilience, people wanting to celebrate even though the weather has been pretty bad, and an extraordinary resilience on behalf of Her Majesty, who, in spite of all the problems and difficulties, has kept going with such incredible spirit.”

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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