The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations kicked off on Thursday morning with a parade and flypast around Buckingham Palace, and the bittersweet acknowledgement that Britain is unlikely to experience anything quite like this ever again.
The milestone marks 70 years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth II, who took the crown at just 25 years old in February 1952. The U.K. has a special four-day bank holiday beginning Thursday to celebrate the 96 year old, who is the longest-serving monarch in British history.
Although the Queen missed the Trooping the Color ceremony, she appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony two hours into the festivities to “inspect” the troops, and was later joined by “working” members of the Royal Family (meaning no Prince Andrew or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) for a Royal Air Force flypast that gave Tom Cruise a run for his money. The monarch — who appeared to be on good form despite a spell of poor health in recent months — stood beside her son and heir to the throne, Prince Charles; her youngest grandson, an animated, four-year-old Prince Louis; and other senior members of the family that had been specially invited.
The morning began with a lavish parade featuring senior royals, more than 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses, 400 musicians and one extremely well-behaved Irish wolfhound, who made their way with great pomp from Buckingham Palace, down the Mall and into the nearby Horse Guard’s Parade for a Trooping the Color display of military pageantry from the 1st Battalion, Irish Guard and hundreds of other officers and soldiers from the Household Division.
Prince Charles, Prince William and Princess Anne (also known as the Princess Royal) were — impressively — on horseback the entire way, while Camilla Parker Bowles and Kate Middleton were in a carriage along with Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte, who waved enthusiastically to royal-watchers along the Mall. Also following in a carriage was the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, and his family. (Check out Variety’s full gallery of the parade here.)
Those noticeably missing from the day included Prince Andrew, who no longer undertakes any public duties and had his military ties removed by the Queen following the sex assault case brought against him by Virginia Guiffre. (The prince reached an out of court settlement with Guiffre in February.)
Also out of view were Prince Harry and Markle, whose attendance at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee has been a hot topic in the U.K. ever since they stepped down as senior royals in 2020 and gave a bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey about their experience with the Firm last year.
The couple and their two young children, Archie and Lilibet, did ultimately come to Britain for the celebrations. Though they have so far kept a low profile — watching Thursday’s festivities from the Major General’s Office — it’s likely they’ll be seen at other family events over the weekend, such as the Platinum Party in the Park on Saturday night.
Hundreds of thousands of Britons are expected to descend on London over the long weekend to take part in Jubilee celebrations, which include a Thanksgiving service on Friday and a £15-million Pageant on Sunday featuring musical guests and celebrities. (The U.K. government reportedly set aside £28 million of taxpayers’ money in the March 2021 budget to pay for the Jubilee celebrations.)
Thursday’s kick-off was relatively drama-free, although it wouldn’t be a royal event without an animal going rogue. As Camilla and Kate’s carriage set off from Buckingham Palace at the very start of the parade, a nearby rider struggled to control his horse, who zig-zagged along the path and was eventually led to the side. The BBC, which broadcast the entire ceremony, quickly cut away from the incident so it’s unknown exactly how disruptive the horse was.
Meanwhile, police also arrested a group of protestors who jumped the barricades along the Mall and stood in the way of marching guardsmen, with some even laying on the ground before being dragged away by police.
Overall, however, the parade ticked along largely without incident, with BBC commentators including Kirsty Young keeping the three-hour broadcast on track.
Part of the broadcaster’s coverage also included well wishes for the Queen from senior political figures and celebrities. Former U.S. President Barack Obama was among the first to share a message, noting that he had come to develop a “special relationship” with the monarch, whom he met alongside his wife, Michelle Obama, in 2009.
“Her majesty put us at ease with her grace and generosity. She reminded me a little bit of my grandmother,” Obama said. “Your life has been a gift not just to the U.K. but to the world. May the light of your crown continue to reign supreme.”
Actor and singer Dame Julie Andrews also shared her wishes for the Queen.
“I well remember the beautiful radio speech you gave on your 21st birthday. You pledged yourself in service to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. In all the years since, you have never betrayed that promise. My warmest congratulations to you ma’am and thank you,” said Andrews.