I sat down to write this piece about the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant and ended up staring at a piece of paper for ages with images, sounds and memories of how I felt flashing through my mind. I really want to try to capture the essence of the event on paper, or type, but I can’t seem to find words which carry the emotion quite strongly enough – but it was brilliant!
You could feel the excitement building as we headed in to the headquarters of London Kayaking, the starting point for the kayakers taking part in the Jubilee Pageant.
The night before Becky (‘Becky’ from the ‘Channel to Channel’ and I had spent a few hours knocking back celebratory red wine with ‘Paddleboard Paul‘, first at a street party in Brentford and then in Chiswick. The busy street parties and packed pubs on Saturday night gave way to eerily quiet streets as Paul drove us to our start point near Chelsea. Even though the streets were empty and many of them were shut we could feel a sort of tense ‘nervous excitement’ in the air in anticipation of the big event.
When we arrived, our fellow paddlers were assembling their elaborately decorated boats, cramming them on to the already overcrowded pontoon and jetty and once again I was proudly flying the flag for my favourite charity, the Children’s Trust.
Time flew by as we stood chomping on various foodstuffs, sipping hot drinks, laughing, getting to know each other and watching the crowds start to build. Three hours before we were due to take to the water the crowd on the bank, even that far up river, was already five deep and building every minute.
Becky and I stood and watched in awe as boat after boat headed up stream to take their places in the line. Boats of all shapes and sizes powered by including the music barges which gave us our own concerts from military bands, bagpipes, orchestras and choirs – and being right there on the river we had a fantastic viewpoint!
At 1pm Harry Whelen took centre stage for the final briefing, everyone put their final pieces of kit on, Becky slipped in to her dog suit (it was meant to be a Corgi, but looked more like ‘Scooby D00 – one guy even thought she was meant to be the ‘Pink Panther’!) and then the order came – ‘to your boats!’
Getting the entire squadron of kayaks on to the water was well organised and effortless and a total credit to Harry Whelen who oversaw the operation.Once we were in the long wait started.
Spirits among the kayakers were still high an hour-and-a-half or so later when we were still bobbing up and down in on the Thames. The crowds on the banks above us had thickened immensely and all we could see for as far as we could see in both directions and on both banks was people – millions of people. People lined not only the banks, but the passenger boats more alongside were full and lilting towards the river and every balcony that we could see on every flat was crowded with people waving banners and flags. The houseboats beside us at Chelsea were all hosing parties, brimming with smartly dressed people drinking champagne and cheering at us even before we could move off.
The distant rumble was definitely there. At first I thought it was a train, then it sounded as though it was distant thunder from the threatening clouds overhead, then it got louder. The rumble grew louder and louder until the noise from the people lining the banks turned in to a stomach churning roar. The flashes of thousands of cameras sparked up the dark stormy sky and the Queen came in to view. She motored past us, mid-channel in a purposeful manner in a launch flanked by a military escort.
I had a lump in my throat.
A few minutes later the huge 90 foot rowing boat, the Gloriana came in to view behind the floating belfry which heralded the approaching procession and the river behind it was packed with man-powered boats creating small bow-waves and kicking up spray from their oars.
As the pageant approached the sight of hundred of boats bearing down on us was almost intimidating but so exciting and the roar from the crowds didn’t subside for a second.
We saluted the procession as they moved on and then Harry gave the unceremonial but effective order in his thick Irish accent ‘C’mon, let’s go!’
En-mass we paddled out to take our positions mid-stream and paddle up to our four knott designated speed.
In no time at all we wre gaining ground through the hundreds or rowing boats, gigs, skiffs and dragon boats. The PLA vessel with us instructed ‘Find a whole and punch on’ – so we did.
After the first few minutes everything becomes a very blurry but brilliantly memorable mish-mash of memories.
I remember laughing and joking with rowers, chatting with the chaps in the PLA boats, colliding with the girls in the Australian Lifeguard gig, passing gondalas, the drums of the dragon boats, passing through the avenue of sail, HMS President and HMS Belfast, passing the Queen on the ‘Spirit of Chartwell’ and hearing people shouting ‘Hey Scooby, you’re on TV!’ to Becky in her Corgi suit.
Paddling among the boats was brilliant. At first all I could see either side of me was boats. All I could see ahead of me was boats. And then there was one.
Along with two other kayakers, I’d slipped in between every rowing boat in the flotilla and we were now right behind the ‘Gloriana’, the heavily guilded and vast rowing boat leading the procession.
As we approached Tower Bridge we all moved off towards the north bank side of the river – after seven miles it was nearly time for us to leave the procession.
The noise from the crowds in that final section was immense and fireworks exploded with showers of lights in the dark-purple stormy sky.
The support from the crowds of spectators lining the banks and on the houseboats and on the passenger boats was absolutely brilliant and totally relentless. How the millions of people along the route kept up such a tremendous and constant roar is totally beyond me but it made the whole package what will be, without a doubt, one of the most memorable occasions of many peoples lives.
Taking part in the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant was an experience that I will never forget and as we left the water at Shadwell Outdoor Activity Centre to watch the rest of the flotilla pass by I was so glad that I was joined on the water by a friend to share the memory with. The QDJP was an experience that Becky and I will no doubt dine out on for a long time to come!
The whole weekend was absolutely amazing.
How to unite a nation… way to go HM Queen Elizabeth II.
In the next entry Justin talks about his ‘BIG yellow boat’ supplied by the Family Adventure Store.
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