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LONDON — Nobody pumps out the pomp quite like the British. And so Buckingham Palace and the nation’s armed forces put on an extraordinary pageant Thursday for their deeply admired monarch, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, her 70th year on the throne.
Kicking off four days of festivities, the spectacle began with the Queen’s Birthday Parade, the 260-year-old tradition known as Trooping the Colour, with 1,400 soldiers in scarlet tunics and bearskin caps — alongside an Irish wolfhound named Seamus — marching in precision drills, while bands mounted on horses pounded on kettle drums and blew trumpets.
At the end of the parade, there was a record-breaking 82-gun salute and finally a “flypast” by the Royal Air Force, showcasing 70 fighter planes and helicopters roaring overhead, some flying in formation to spell the number “70,” while the queen — wearing sunglasses — smiled from the palace balcony.
Well, the queen’s great-grandson Prince Louis, just 4 and dressed in a sailor suit, did steal the show when he clamped his hands over his ears and made a face as the jets zoomed past.
And afterward, the palace announced that while the queen “greatly enjoyed” the parade and aerial display, she “did experience some discomfort” and would miss Friday’s thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
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The fragility of the 96-year-old queen hangs over these celebrations.
In interviews, over and over, the people massed outside Buckingham Palace on Thursday — many dressed in Union Jack costumes, quaffing a river of Prosecco — told The Washington Post that they wanted to show their appreciation to Elizabeth for a lifetime of service.
A giant banner reading “thank you” was held aloft, an image picked up by overhead cameras and broadcast on jumbo screens outside the palace.
It seemed to sum up the sentiment in the crowd.
And many felt this was not just a big thank you, but a final thank you, as if everyone was making merry but also holding their breath, wondering if the queen would make it to her own party.
“I’m going to get emotional,” said teacher Helen Critcher, 57, who had just watched the queen smile and wave at her subjects, which prompted many to rapturously sing “God Save the Queen” — even if some didn’t seem to know all the words to the British national anthem.
The queen has been “a constant for 70 years in a very changing and frightening world, someone who put duty above everything else,” Critcher said. “I think we just want her to know that she’s very valued.”
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People outside the palace also wondered aloud what will happen to this monarchy after Elizabeth leaves the stage. She is the only queen most of her subjects have ever known.
In her recent communiques, she has gently acknowledged that she will not be around forever.
In her jubilee message released Thursday, she wrote that she hoped “the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last seventy years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
But the people are happy with their queen. Her approval ratings are as high as 86 percent, according to polling firm Ipsos. And most people want her to keep going.
A poll by YouGov found that 59 percent surveyed said Elizabeth should remain monarch as long as she lives, while 25 percent said she should step aside and 17 percent were undecided.
Many of the people gathered outside Buckingham Palace — a self-selecting group, of course — said she should stay put.
“I think she should carry on, she does a wonderful job,” said Elaine Stone, 55, who works in a statistics office.
“And yes, okay, age is holding her back a little bit now, but she’s still got all her marbles and her sense of duty won’t ever leave her,” Stone said.
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Helen Graziano, 67, a retired business development consultant who flew in from Spain to be at the celebrations, agreed that the queen should stay queen.
Graziano liked how the Firm, as insiders call the palace, is working, with a gentle transition underway.
“Charles is doing a bit more, William a bit more … and who is to say, she might outlive Charles,” she said.
Lin Qinn, 72, a retired support worker for people with learning difficulties, wondered if perhaps it might be time to make way for Prince Charles, the king-in-waiting.
She said of the queen: “I think she’s done a marvelous job, through the war, through everything. I wouldn’t want to do it. She works so hard, every day, every day is a working day for her. She puts her country first and family second.
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“I think maybe the time is coming soon, time to let Charles step in and do what he’s been raised to do. I think he’s ready. I think the queen can have a rest and step back and enjoy herself.”
Charles — who has increasingly taken on roles traditionally held by his mother — had the responsibility of reviewing the parading military troops on the queen’s behalf on Thursday, before leading them on horseback back to Buckingham Palace, where Elizabeth was waiting.
Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, also took to the streets to greet the crowds.
Wearing his royal red military uniform, Charles, the honorary colonel of the Welsh Guards, shook hands and smiled, engaging in a “walkabout” — a custom started by Elizabeth during a 1970 trip to Australia.
Among the public, there was great interest in when and where the runaway royals, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, would appear.
As the California couple are no longer “senior working royals,” they were not invited to stand with the queen on the balcony.
But keen-eyed observers spotted Meghan, wearing a wide-brimmed white hat, in a window above the parade route.
She was photographed playfully chatting with some of the queen’s great-grandchildren, as well as speaking with the Duke of Kent.
Harry and Meghan are expected to be more visible Friday, attending the service at St. Paul’s.
Also notably absent on Thursday was disgraced Prince Andrew.
The queen’s third child (said to be her favorite) was not alongside siblings Charles and Anne as they took part in salutes on horseback. Nor was he in the royal carriages, which included his younger brother Edward. Nor was he on the balcony.
Andrew’s banishment from front-line royal life comes after he settled a sexual abuse lawsuit this year, linked to his friendship with disgraced American financier and convicted abuser Jeffrey Epstein.
It now appears that Andrew will not attend Friday’s church service, either.
Buckingham Palace said Thursday afternoon that he had just tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ellen Francis in London and Marisa Bellack in Washington contributed to this report.