LONDON — Pealing church bells, the crack of ceremonial rifle fire and the thunderous din of iconic Royal Air Force fighters couldn’t drown out Britain’s deafening cheers Tuesday as throngs of well-wishers marked the final day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
As a Lancaster bomber soared over Buckingham Palace, flanked by a Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, the sovereign — ignoring ever-present rains — waved to the soaked, sprawling crowd from the balcony, capping four days of unparalleled pomp and pageantry that made it clear the country’s affections for the monarchy remain far from depleted.
In a rare televised statement, the Queen called the celebrations “a humbling experience.”
“I will continue to treasure and draw inspiration from the countless kindnesses shown to me in this country and throughout the Commonwealth,” the monarch said during the two-minute pre-recorded broadcast.
Throughout the festivities, which honoured the Queen’s six decades on the throne, her husband Prince Phillip was not at her side: the Duke of Edinburgh, who turns 91 this weekend, was hospitalized Monday with a bladder infection.
It was the second major event at which the royal consort has been absent, having missed Christmas after undergoing a heart operation.
Earlier Tuesday, thousands of people behind barricades waved flags and cheered as the Queen descended the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and stepped in to her black state Bentley, which was adorned with a small flag bearing the royal coat of arms.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and other dignitaries attended the hour-long service of Thanksgiving inside the cathedral, its world-famous dome a prominent landmark on the London skyline.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered a sermon that paid tribute to the 86-year-old monarch.
“I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our Queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others,” Williams said.
“She has responded with just the generosity St. Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race.”
The Queen arrived at the cathedral wearing a mint green, fine silk tulle outfit embroidered with tiny star-shaped flowers and embellished with silver thread. The crowd outside St. Paul’s brandished Union Jacks and chanted “God save the Queen” as she responded with a small wave of her gloved hand.
Cian Horrobin, who led a group of travellers organized by the Monarchist League of Canada, said the four-day jubilee celebrations made the spectacle of last year’s royal wedding for Prince William and Kate pale in comparison.
The chance to see members of the royal family up close as they exited St. Paul’s, coupled with the lavish trimmings of a banner royal celebration, made the occasion seem both special and surreal, he said.
“I’ve never in my life seen that kind of pageantry before,” said Horrobin.
“Literally, the heralds of the realm were there with their full gear, and they had the trumpet players in their gold and burgundy uniforms. All the soldiers were in armour, stuff I’ve only ever read about in books, really.”
The throngs of well-wishers saved some of their loudest cries for Prince William and Kate — arguably the most popular members of the royal family — and Prince Harry, as well as the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla.
The Queen shared a few words with Prince Charles and her grandson, Harry, as a choir sang English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Te Deum in G.”
A lunch in a medieval hall and a carriage procession back to Buckingham Palace followed the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
With most of Tuesday’s events indoors or under cover, there was less worry about the precarious weather, which has ranged from unseasonably cool to downright foul.
President Barack Obama sent a video tribute extending “the heartfelt congratulations of the American people” to the queen. Obama hailed her as “a living witness to the power of our alliance, and a chief source of its resilience.”
The celebration that has consumed all of London these past four days may, for its sheer pageantry, have eclipsed last year’s nuptials of Prince William and Kate.
Perhaps the grandest event of all was the procession down the river Thames of a 1,000-ship flotilla led by the Queen’s royal barge.
Thousands of people packed the Mall and Hyde Park on Monday night to see a pop concert at Buckingham Palace, featuring musical legends Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Paul McCartney.
The crowd roared as ska band Madness performed their 1982 hit “Our House” atop the palace roof, just as guitarist Brian May of the British rock band Queen did a decade ago at the Golden Jubilee, as a spectacular light show transformed the palace into terraced housing.
Harper, meanwhile, has kept a relatively low profile in London. On Tuesday, he announced the table tennis players who will represent Canada at the coming London Olympic Games: Andre Ho, Pierre-Luc Hinse, Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang.
Harper and his wife, Laureen, also joined British Prime Minister David Cameron for a private dinner at 10 Downing Street. On Wednesday, the prime minister has an audience with the Queen.
— With files from The Associated Press