A festival fit for a queen

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The only other Diamond Jubilee to be celebrated by a British monarch was in 1897, when Queen Victoria celebrated her 60 years on the throne. At that Jubilee, Victoria dressed in black silk with white ostrich features and diamonds, sailors in boaters pulled gun carriages while guards in bearskin hats lined the route. The table of the grand dinner party afterward was decorated with a 9ft-high display of 60,000 orchids crafted into the shape of the crown. How times have changed over the intervening century.

While you'll still witness the pomp and ceremony, the 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth (1-5 June) will celebrate the people of the UK and invites a global audience to sit down to Sunday lunch and a plethora of other activities.

Epsom Derby

The celebrations will be under starter’s orders when Her Majesty attends the Epsom Derby (1-2 June), her first official engagement of the Jubilee. It’s a natural starting point for the weekend, given the Queen’s long association with Epsom Downs racecourse, which she attended for her first derby in 1953, just four days after her coronation. The derby runs over Friday and Saturday, but the showpiece race is on Saturday with prize money of £1.3 million for the winning thoroughbred.

The Big Lunch (…and tea)

Sunday lunch is a British tradition, so what better way to celebrate than sitting down with friends and neighbours to scoff scotch eggs and meat pies on paper plates. Check out the Big Lunch map and find your nearest trestle table, then just show up with something yummy. If you can’t make the lunch, how about high tea? Hotels including the Dorchester, Park Lane, Andaz and Betty’s Tea Rooms in Yorkshire, are all offering Jubilee Teas with requisite Victoria sponge cake, coronation chicken sandwiches and gin and tonic jellies.

The Queen's mounted Life Guards in Horse Guards Parade. Photo by Gavin Gough (Lonely Planet Images). 

The River Pageant

At high water on Sunday 3 June, up to 1000 boats, barges, tall ships and pleasure craft will muster on the Thames to form part of the Avenue of Sail, as the Queen floats down the river on the golden Royal Barge. The River Pageant will be the biggest flotilla on the Thames River in 350 years, with over 30,000 participants. While the Queen will board at Chelsea Pier, down river at London Bridge there will be a gun salute. Thames piers, riverside roads and bridges will be closed to traffic and there will be up to 50 big screens along the route so everyone can enjoy the show.

Other vantage points worth considering are a table at the River Restaurant in the Savoy Hotel, or on the grassy banks of Battersea Park, where a Diamond Jubilee Festival will be held, replete with tea trolleys touring the park, a village fete with Morris dancing and apple dunking, and a diamond-geezer pub where you’ll likely meet Pearly Kings and Queen’s. What’s more, you can take part in the Jubilee cake competition: there’ll be room for yours on the stand, which is being designed to hold up to 1000 cakes.

Lighting the beacons

At 10pm on Monday 4 June over 4000 beacons will be lit across the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Commonwealth to mark the celebrations. Religious buildings planning on taking part include the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Hindu Temple in the West Midlands and St Mary’s Parish Church in Moseley, Birmingham. The Queen herself will light the final beacon from the concert stage at Buckingham Palace, where Elton John and Stevie Wonder are scheduled to perform. Event organisers have applied to the Guinness Book of World Records to claim the longest chain of beacons ever.

Service at St Paul’s

Queen Victoria’s official Jubilee celebrations took place on 20 June 1897. On the 22 June, Queen Victoria processed to St Paul’s cathedral, followed by 17 carriages full of dignitaries, to attend a Thanksgiving service. She wrote in her diary afterwards, it was ‘A never to be forgotten day’. Likewise, on Tuesday 5 June, the Queen and Prince Philip will attend the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, which will feature a Jubilee prayer and a ‘Diamond Choir’ made up of children from around the UK.

Her Majesty at the Trooping the Colour ceremony, 2010. Photo by Simon Greenwood (Lonely Planet Images).

Carriage procession

Finally, after a private lunch at Westminster Hall (5 June), the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will leave the New Palace Yard in the open-topped, 1902 State Landau horse-drawn carriage and proceed up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Military personnel from all three services will line the route and a Guard of Honour will greet the royal pair at the gates of Buckingham Palace. When they appear on the balcony, an RAF Flypast and cascade of rifle fire will close the epic celebrations.

This article was originally published in May 2012. This article was updated in October 2012.