She was without Prince Philip, her husband of 64 years, who was hospitalised on Monday for treatment of a bladder infection.
At a morning service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, praised her for bringing happiness to the nation. His thoughts were seconded by jubilant crowds that cheered royals major and minor as they made their way to and from the church.
“We are marking six decades of living proof that public service is possible and that it is a place where happiness can be found,” the archbishop told the royals and dignitaries filling the vast landmark church designed by Christopher Wren in the 17th century.
The queen returned to Buckingham Palace in the afternoon, braving the first few drops of rain in an open carriage, later to appear on the palace balcony with the present and future of the monarchy: her heir, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, Prince William, the second-in-line, and his wife, Kate, and William’s brother, Prince Harry.
There were more cheers as a Lancaster bomber, four Spitfire fighters and a Hurricane fighter — all recalling the nation’s battle for survival in the Second World War — emerged from leaden skies to fly over the palace. They were followed by nine jets spewing red, white and blue smoke.
The crowds, forming a sea of bobbing umbrellas, stretched all the way down the Mall, the wide road leading to Buckingham Palace. As the Irish Guards doffed their bearskin hats to lead three cheers, the 86-year-old monarch beamed. For some the jubilee affirmed the nation’s unmatched skills for staging impressive ceremonies, evoking the power and swagger of its vanished empire.