BRITONS today began four days of festivities for Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee, turning out in droves for events around the country in a surge of enthusiasm for the monarchy. salutes across Britain were due to launch celebrations at 1200 GMT, marking the exact anniversary of the queen's coronation, while the sovereign herself was to indulge in her love of horse racing at the Epsom Derby.

Tens of thousands of people were awaiting the queen at the racecourse, while thousands more paraded through the Scottish city of Perth, held community parties and even travelled to watch military bands rehearse in London ahead of the main celebrations.


"It's not every morning you wake up on a day that will be written about in the history books," declared the Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper.


"Make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. It may be centuries before another comes along."

Cloudy weather and forecasts of rain appeared unlikely to deter the public from partying amid the highest support for the royals in decades. A recent poll showed about 80 percent of Britons want the country to stay a monarchy.

People were already camping in tents beside the Thames river ahead of a pageant of about 1000 boats that will sail through London today with the 86-year-old queen in a royal barge decked with 10,000 flowers.

Britons have planned more than 9500 street parties for today, and on Monday, some 4000 beacons will be lit across the Commonwealth following a huge picnic and star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace.

Tuesday - like Monday a public holiday - is devoted to ceremonial events including a thanksgiving service and carriage procession.

Crowds of racegoers, some in top hats and tailcoats, were arriving at Epsom just outside London in anticipation of the monarch's appearance at a racecourse whose tents were covered with Union Jack flags and bunting.

The queen, an avid horse-racing fan who still rides despite her age, was expected to be driven down the course in an open-topped vehicle with husband Prince Philip, 90, before a flag-waving crowd of over 150,000.

The Red Arrows aerobatic team will give a display of daredevil flying, and mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins will perform the national anthem ahead of the Epsom Derby, Britain's richest horse race, which dates back to 1780.

The monarch will present the 110-year-old Coronation Cup - renamed the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup - to the winner of a race run on the same course as the Derby.

Some 72 horses and six World War I-era 13-pounder gun carriages were meanwhile headed for parade grounds in central London for a 41-gun salute to be echoed around the country.

Thousands of people including 1000 pipers and drummers were parading through the Scottish city of Perth despite an ongoing campaign north of the border for independence from the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland, even republican party Sinn Fein has supported celebrations and offered a gift to the queen for the occasion.

Political leaders lined up ahead of the revels to praise the queen, who in 60 years on the throne has won a reputation for shrewdness and devotion to duty, an unflappable demeanour and a seemingly infinite collection of hats.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a video tribute, "I think it's hugely important. The Queen has given incredible service - 60 years on the throne, a lifetime of service - she's never put a foot wrong.

"She's hugely popular and respected, and it's an opportunity for people to give thanks and say thank you."

Festivities are set to be more muted across the Commonwealth, mostly made up of former British colonies, but British soldiers were pictured in Afghanistan serving celebratory tea from a gold-coloured teapot.

In the Telegraph newspaper, Michael Lockett, chief executive of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation, said bad weather should not stop the nation taking the chance to "be part of history."

"In these austere times, we need cheering up more than ever," he added, while royal watchers recalled it had poured with rain on the day of the queen's coronation.

The queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, upon the death of her father King George VI while she was away in Kenya, and was crowned the following year on June 2.

Queen Elizabeth in numbers

Britain is celebrating the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, marking 60 years on the throne during which she has set a number of landmarks.

Here are some facts and figures about her reign and the jubilee festivities:


- Queen Victoria was the last and the only previous British monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee, in 1897. Queen Elizabeth II is the oldest British monarch to celebrate one, being 85 on the 60th anniversary of her accession, while Victoria was 77.


- Only three other world head of states have celebrated diamond jubilees during Queen Elizabeth's reign. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej marked his in 2006; the Sultan of Johor, which is now part of Malaysia, celebrated his in 1955; and Emperor Hirohito of Japan celebrated his in 1986.


- Queen Elizabeth II is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror who obtained the crown of England in 1066.


- There have been 12 British prime ministers since the queen acceded to the throne. Winston Churchill was the first. She met current premier David Cameron when he was nine years old and acting in a production of The Wind in the Willows, playing a rabbit to the mole of her youngest son Prince Edward.


- There have been 11 US presidents during her reign. She has met all of them except Lyndon Johnson.


- There have been six Popes during the queen's reign (Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI).


- The queen has launched 21 ships.


- The queen has sat for 129 portraits during her time on the throne.


- The queen has answered around 3.5 million items of correspondence during her reign, and she and her husband Prince Philip have sent around 45,000 Christmas cards.


- She has been on 261 official overseas visits to 116 different countries since becoming queen. She has visited Australia 16 times, Canada 22 times, Jamaica 6 times and New Zealand 10 times.


- Almost 1.5 million people have attended Queen Elizabeth's garden parties at Buckingham Palace in London or at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.


-- The queen has owned more than 30 corgis, starting with Susan, who was a present for her 18th birthday in 1944. Many have been direct descendants from Susan. She currently has three corgis: Monty, Willow and Holly.


-- The queen introduced a new breed of dog known as the "dorgi" when one of her corgis was mated with a dachshund.


(Source: The official website of the Diamond Jubilee; Prime Minister David Cameron's office)

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