She sails on a royal barge, decorated with 10,000 flowers from her estates

Fortified with the “Dunkirk spirit,” Pimms and gin-and-tonic, up to a million people on Sunday, braving cold and bad weather, turned up along the Thames to watch the Queen's diamond jubilee river pageant as she sailed on a royal barge, decorated with 10,000 flowers from her estates and escorted by a flotilla of 1,000 boats, including one with the Indian flag.

Advertised as the “most spectacular” nautical parade in 350 years, the pageant was the centrepiece of the four-day diamond jubilee celebrations with television channels clearing their schedules to give it a wall-to-wall coverage.

Republican groups criticised the BBC for its “fawning” tone and accused it of ignoring their viewpoint.

Crowds, gathered along the river banks, cheered as the barge carrying the Queen sailed past them while boats saluted the 86-year-old monarch by raising their oars.

The Queen, in a white hat and a silver and white coat, remained standing throughout the windy and wet journey waving occasionally to the spectators. She was accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other senior royals including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Heavy rain poured down as the Queen disembarked at the Tower Bridge after a nearly two-hour journey telecast “live” around the world. For the British media, it seemed that for a day, the rest of the world had fallen off the map with the Queen's river pageant the only show in town.

Earlier, bells rang out to mark the start of the jubilee flotilla's 12-kilometre journey that took some three hours to complete.

Along the river banks, families with little children carrying replicas of the Union Jack celebrated with food, drinks and music, including snatches from Bollywood songs. Tourists described it as an “amazing experience.”

“It is all so much fun. Everybody has gone through so much trouble…We couldn't ask for better,” said a woman from Auckland, New Zealand.

The celebration, which began on Saturday, will go on until Tuesday with hundreds of street parties and fairs planned across the nation. Tomorrow (Monday), there will be a “live” concert in front of Buckingham Palace with performances from some of the biggest names in the music world, including Dame Shirley Bassey and Sir Elton John.

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