Diamond Jubilee: Queen attends Thames River Pageant03 JUNE 2012
It is the crowning glory of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations – a flotilla of such majesty and numbers it rivals any ever assembled to honour her predecessors.
Even the Queen, who has witnessed so many processions in her 86 years, looked excited as she arrived for the start of the Thames River Pageant alongside the Duke of Edinburgh.
A huge cheer went up and it seemed as if every boat on the river sounded their horn in greeting.
Wearing an exquisite dress and matching coat designed by Angela Kelly and created from white boucle, threaded throughout with silk ribbon and embellished with Swarovski crystals, she waved to the crowds at London's Chelsea Pier.
There, the 86-year-old matriarch was met by Prince Charles – who on Friday spoke affectionately to the nation about his 'darling Mama'.
His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall greeted her mother-in-law with a deep curtsy.
Making their way past an Honour Guard of Chelsea Pensioners, resplendent in scarlet tunics and tricorn hats, the royals boarded HMY Britannia's small tender.
The vessel was used countless times to transport members of the Windsor clan to and from the Queen's beloved yacht Britannia before it was decommissioned in 1997.
The nostalgic touch was appreciated by the guest of honour, who look thrilled during the journey to Cadogan Pier, a short distance downriver.
Here they boarded the magnificent Royal Barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, where they were met by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
The Royal Standard was raised to show that Her Majesty was on board.
Gondalas, Viking longboats, skiffs and, in fact, nearly every vessel that passed the Royal Barge saluted the sovereign.
And she responded with a wave before the Spirit of Chartwell joined the flotilla on the historic seven-mile journey down the Thames.
To head up the magnificent 1,000-strong pageant, the barge has been transformed into a luxurious cruiser worthy of the name.
Recalling the splendour of the 17th century and themed in red, gold and purple, the 210-foot vessel has been decorated with lavish carpets, velvet drapes and floral displays made from flowers picked from the Queen's own gardens.
A red velvet banner decorated with a version of the royal coat-of-arms and more than half a million gold-coloured buttons hangs from its stern.
And beneath a gold-gilded canopy, positioned centre stage to ensure crowds are given the best possible view of the guests of honour, are two thrones.
These seats didn't get much use because the Queen, whose stamina and indefatigable spirit has impressed everyone, insisted on standing much of the way.
In fact, the only concession to her age was when she put on a shawl as the barge rounded the bend in the river past Westminster where the wind picked up.
At her special invitation, guests including the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, and the historian Simon Schama were onboard.
Along the way bells from riverside churches rang out in celebration.
And a 41-gun salute was fired at Tower Bridge - the Queen's eventual destination - which raised its bascules in honour of the occasion.
At Tower Bridge, the Spirit of Chartwell berthed at HMS President, the Royal Navy's riverside base at St Katherine's Dock, where the Queen and her family were joined by Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha.
In the now driving rain, they stood and watched the rest of the flotilla, which is the largest ever assembled on the river.
This included other prominent members of the royal family.
The Duke of York and his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, travelled with the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent on board the Havengore.
And the Princess Royal and her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence were on Trinity House No. 1 boat.