A beaming Queen Elizabeth enjoyed a day at the races,
indulging a lifelong passion for horses at the launch of four
days of nationwide Diamond Jubilee celebrations to mark her
60 years on the British throne.
Wearing a blue coat and matching hat, the 86-year-old was
greeted by tens of thousands of flag-waving well-wishers at
the Epsom Derby in southern England to watch one of the
racing calendar's richest events.
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins led the crowd in singing
the national anthem as the queen and husband Prince Philip
looked on, reflecting a mood of patriotism that has swept the
country as the queen reaches a rare milestone.
Only one monarch has celebrated a diamond jubilee before -
Queen Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother Victoria in 1897.
The festivities mark the start of a summer of revelry in
Britain with London also hosting the Olympic Games in July.
"It's a wonderful day to be British. It's not often you get a
chance to show your pride," said racegoer Carole Peck from
Ipswich in eastern England.
"All ages, all classes are mingling together with one thing
in common. I think the whole thing with the Olympics, the
queen and the Jubilee, it's time to fly the flag."
The queen is a keen horse rider and breeder, and visits Epsom
every year. While few personal details are known about the
famously discreet head of state, it is reported that she
reads the Racing Post sports newspaper over breakfast each
Amid a crowd wearing top hats and tails and women in their
snazziest dresses, the queen looked on appreciatively from
the royal box as Derby winner Camelot was heralded in the
winner's circle. Later she presented trophies to the winning
jockey, trainer and owners.
The focus turns to London on Sunday, where huge crowds are
expected to line the streets and the River Thames for a
series of spectacular events, although rain is forecast which
could dampen enthusiasm.
Millions more are expected to attend street parties across
the country as surveys of public opinion show the royal
family's popularity is as high as it has been for decades.
Across Britain, red, white and blue "Union Jack" flags billow
from street lamps, shop fronts and houses, and sales of
patriotic souvenirs have rocketed ahead of the celebrations.
On Sunday, a flotilla of 1000 boats assembled from around the
globe will sail along the Thames to accompany the queen and
her 90-year-old husband on a royal barge, the largest such
pageant for 350 years.
Thousands of street parties are planned across the country,
including one in Downing Street outside Prime Minister David
Cameron's office, as part of a "Big Jubilee Lunch".
The queen's London residence Buckingham Palace will host a
pop concert on Monday featuring the likes of Paul McCartney
and Elton John, before a network of beacons are lit across
Britain and around the Commonwealth.
The celebrations culminate on Tuesday with a memorial service
at St Paul's Cathedral, a carriage procession through central
London and a fly-past by present and former Royal Air Force
To royalists, the jubilee is a chance to express their
appreciation of a woman who acceded to the throne in February
1952 on the death of her father George VI.
For others, the chance of some extra days off work and to
enjoy the sort of public ceremony for which Britain is
renowned has made the jubilee a welcome break from austere
times, pay freezes and public spending cuts.
Republicans hope the occasion marks the last hurrah of what
they say is a dying anachronism they estimate costs the
taxpayer up to 200 million pounds a year.
About a million people are expected to travel to London for
the flotilla alone, but not all will be cheering for the
queen - banner-waving republicans plan to protest at Tower
Bridge during the event.
Police said the weekend would include the largest royal
security operation. About 13,000 officials including around
6,000 police officers will be on duty for the Thames pageant.