Events staged in tribute to the Queen’s 60-year reign will be held across the UK during the four-day Bank Holiday, and rehearsals were held yesterday to ensure everything goes off smoothly.
Although the UK’s airports were braced for a busy weekend, with more than 100,000 Scots taking advantage of the extended break to head overseas, most of the population will stay at home to mark the biggest royal event since the Golden Jubilee celebrations a decade ago.
Weatherwise, the situation is less bright. Heavy rain is forecast over London and the south-east of England tomorrow to greet the Thames Jubilee pageant, the first showpiece event of the long weekend.
Further rainfall is expected on Monday for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and the main State procession on Tuesday.
In Scotland however, conditions should be better. A spokesman for the Met Office said the majority of the country will be “fine and dry” from today through until Tuesday, with widespread sunny spells and temperatures of up to 17C.
Today, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will attend the second day of the Epsom Derby, where Katherine Jenkins will sing the national anthem and the Red Arrows will perform an air display.
The pageant – featuring more than 1,000 vessels – begins tomorrow morning, with a concert featuring a host of A-list stars taking place in front of Buckingham Palace the following day, and the State procession on Tuesday.
Travel agencies predict up to four million Britons will be travelling within the UK over the course of the holiday, with the nation’s transport infrastructure expected to be extremely busy.
While Scotland will be spared the worst of the disruption, huge numbers of people north of the Border are expected to jet off abroad. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) estimates that more than 100,000 people will depart from Scottish airports over the course of the long weekend, part of an exodus of around two million people from the country.
Yesterday, the celebrations were launched in dramatic fashion by Royal Navy warship HMS Diamond which fired a 21-gun salute as it sailed into Portsmouth Harbour.
The arrival was accompanied by a diamond formation flypast of four navy helicopters, two Merlin and two Lynx. After berthing at Portsmouth naval base, a street party was held on the ship’s flight deck for the 190 crew and guests.
HMS Diamond’s commanding officer, Ian Clarke, said: “It is a real honour for HMS Diamond to salute Her Majesty the Queen as she celebrates not only 60 years on the throne, but 60 years as head of the armed forces.”
Earlier, hundreds of soldiers rode on horseback through the deserted streets of London at dawn to rehearse the State procession. While most of the capital slept, members of the armed forces performed a full dress rehearsal ahead of the spectacle.
Members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment rode from the Palace of Westminster along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, then through Admiralty Arch and along the Mall to Buckingham Palace.
The route was lined with personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Foot Guards and massed bands of the Household Division, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force.
The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery simulated firing a 60-gun salute on Horse Guards Parade as some 2,000 servicemen and women took part in the rehearsal.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband said everyone in the UK should aspire to emulate the Queen’s “care for the common good of all”. In the party’s Jubilee message, he said the weekend’s festivities would also celebrate “everything that is best about our country”.