When she looked up towards the Buckingham Palace balcony and saw the Queen smiling, Tiffany Scherer began to cry.
The 49-year-old had flown in from Cleveland, Ohio, to witness this moment. She wore a fascinator and carried a home-made sign that read, “Royally obsessed,” a description as self-aware as it was accurate.
Most years she’d get up at 5am to watch Trooping the Colour – the parade to mark the official birthday of the British sovereign. But not today. There was no way she was going to miss seeing this in person on the Platinum Jubilee, marking a landmark 70 years on the throne.
“Seeing Her Majesty is something I’ve wanted to do all my life,” she said. “And today it’s so much more amazing in person because of the scope of it.”
All around, the crowd cheered. Many carried Union flags. All were here to show their goodwill to a monarch of record-breaking longevity. Tiffany’s husband Chris deadpanned: “She doesn’t look a day over 90.”
It was a bright, clear bank holiday Thursday that marked the start of the celebrations of an unprecedented moment in British history.
Four days of events began with Trooping the Colour, followed by the Queen and senior royals gathering on Buckingham Palace’s balcony to watch the RAF flypast.
The crowds came from around the world and from a range of walks of life. Not all were fervent monarchists. A group of protesters briefly interrupted the ceremony before being dragged away by police. But what united most of those present was a recognition of the historic significance of the day.
For those who wanted to secure the best vantage points, an early start was a necessity. At 06:30am, Kerry Russell secured her viewing spot on The Mall.
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She wore a bowler hat impaled with a Union flag and brandished another in her hand. Despite the early start she was in good cheer.
“I’m 53 – she’s been here my entire life,” said Kerry, who lives in north London. “You just have to admire her. It’s partly about celebrating her and partly about soaking up the atmosphere here today.”
Among the spectators were many who had been touched by the Royal family in different ways. Take Bal Banga, who attributes a lifelong fascination with them to a childhood encounter.
“I saw Prince Charles when I was little,” says Bal, 49. “He came to Derby and he visited a Sikh temple. We all had to line up and greet him with flags.”
She’d travelled down on the train from her home in Leicester to watch the Trooping the Colour with her son Gavin, 25, who lives in London and works in telecoms. By his own admission he didn’t have his mum’s enthusiasm for the monarchy.
“I’m one of a newer generation,” he said. “I’m not a royalist. I don’t care for royals.” Nonetheless, it was an opportunity to spend time with his mum. “The sun is shining and it’s a nice day out,” he said.
Lea Maunder, 22, from Halle, Germany, had arrived at 6am. She had flown in on Wednesday night, her mood undimmed despite only having one hour’s sleep.
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“I love the spirit of the Royal Family, I’m a big fan of the Queen,” she said, wearing a bright red fascinator and clutching a Union Jack handbag. “I had to dress my best for her,” she added.
“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated by all things British – I’m training to be an English teacher.”
As the crowd thickened around the Mall, Kirsty McLaren, 26, climbed a lamppost and looked above the sea of arms all filming a marching band with their smartphones.
“It’s fabulous up here,” she said. “I can see all the bearskins, I can see the band. And I can see all the people on the other side and their responses.”
Kirsty, 26, had travelled down overnight on the sleeper train from St Andrew’s, Fife, where she works for a church. At London’s Euston station, she met her sister Elizabeth, 32, a teacher in Essex, before making their way here.
It was the first time they’d seen each other in six months. “We both love the Queen,” said Elizabeth. “We were brought up with a huge respect for her.”
As the royal carriage swept past, Bee Curtis and Joshua Carter perched on a railing slightly above the other onlookers, sipping Buck’s Fizz. Not that their elevated position gave them much of a vantage point of the royals. “I saw their hats, which was nice,” Bee, 27, laughed. “Great hats though.”
But for most in the crowd, getting a decent view was beside the point. Had they wanted an uninterrupted vista they could have stayed at home and watched the event on television. “Even if you can’t see anything the atmosphere is great,” said Carl Wilkins, 43, an HGV driver, who had come along with is wife, three children, and their dog, Obi.
What seemed to matter most of all was celebrating a woman they admired. There was also enormous sympathy for her after a difficult few years – the loss of her husband Prince Philip, the public rows over Harry and Meghan, the fallout from Prince Andrew’s BBC Newsnight interview.
“She’s a role model for us – the way she’s managed her family and managed the Commonwealth,” said Shazmiya Firdaus, 32, originally from Sri Lanka, but now living in Harrow, north London. “She’s such a strong personality,” added Salamath Silmy, 35. “I always talk to my daughter about how we have to be strong like her.”
“It’s the sense of service,” said Kirk Paton, 42, from Cambridge. “She’s always kept above politics. When we get to Prince Charles, or rather King Charles, I just don’t think I’m going to feel the same.”
After the parade concluded, the barriers were opened and the crowd moved slowly towards Constitution Hill and the front of Buckingham Palace. From here they could see the flypast and catch a glimpse of the Queen celebrating her 70-year-reign.
When the monarch broke into a smile, Tiffany Scherer was not the only one there who felt the emotion of the moment.
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