Queen Elizabeth II appears twice on palace balcony as Platinum Jubilee party kicks off in London
The royal party has begun!
With a familiar swirl of military color, precision and horsemanship, Britain kicked off Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee celebrations with the Trooping the Colour parade that saw the 96-year-old monarch appear – twice – for the first time in years on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Dressed in a pale blue coat dress and hat, holding a cane and wearing shaded glasses, the queen looked happy and well, and even chatted to one of her great-grandchildren as she stood on the balcony.
She appeared first with one of her royal cousins, the Duke of Kent, to take the salute of her troops, and then with her extended family of "working royals" as 70 RAF jets roared overhead in the traditional end of the Trooping parade.
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Fighter jets flew in formation to create the number '70' in the sky over the palace, acknowledging the queen's unprecedented 70 years on her throne.
Also for the first time, the queen "took the salute" from the balcony as ranks of scarlet-clad mounted and marching British soldiers passed below and huge crowds of people on The Mall shouted and cheered their affection for their long-serving "Platinum Queen."
On the balcony, the queen acknowledged the salute with her cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, 86, (both are descendants of King George V), who stood very tall in his military uniform next to the diminutive queen.
Since the death of her husband, Prince Philip, last year, the duke is the senior male royal of the queen's generation and has occasionally stood in for her at official events.
The queen was wearing the same outfit she was wearing in her official Platinum Jubilee portrait photo released Wednesday: A coat and dress in a dusky dove-blue fabric of wool Charmelaine embellished with pearl and diamante trim around the neckline and cascading down the front of the coat, plus a matching hat. The outfit was created by her longtime designer, dresser and close aide, Angela Kelly.
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Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Cambridge light up Platinum Jubilee Beacon
The queen and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, took part in the lighting of the Principal Platinum Jubilee Beacon Thursday evening, a lighting installation ceremony involving the Queen’s Green Canopy "Tree of Trees" sculpture, a living sculpture made of 350 trees, according to a press release from Buckingham Palace.
The placement of the sculpture in the beacon lighting is meant to symbolize the royal family's environmentalism advocacy.
The queen led the beacon lighting from Windsor Castle, while Prince William represented his grandmother at the Principal Beacon in central London.
In one photo, the queen stands before a glowing purple podium, while a series of smaller purple lights lie on the lawn in front of her. Nearby, a representative of the Yeoman Warders holds the Commonwealth Globe of Nations atop a royal blue cushion. The globe — made from silver, gold, diamonds and platinum, and surrounded by a crown — is placed on the podium and touched by the queen to signal the beginning of the beacon lighting outside Buckingham Palace.
The lighting sequence travels from Windsor to London, starting with lights along the Quadrangle towards Windsor Castle’s Round Tower, and then traveling up the "Tree of Trees" in London, the press release read.
In another photo, Prince William is pictured outside Buckingham Palace walking with Sir Nicholas Bacon, the chair of the queen’s Green Canopy. The Duke is meeting with Bacon and Thomas Heatherwick, the designer of the "Tree of Trees," to learn about the sculpture's origins.
Prince Louis, Princess Charlotte, Prince George delight in queen's second balcony appearance
For the second appearance on the balcony, the family group flanking the queen included Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla; Prince William and Duchess Kate and their three children; Princess Anne and her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence; and the queen's youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, his wife Countess Sophie and their two teenage children, James, Viscount Severn, and Lady Louise Windsor.
Little Louis delighted photographers with his lively behavior, covering his ears and making faces when the RAF jets did their thing.
Also on the balcony were the queen's cousins, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra.
The queen's second son, Prince Andrew the Duke of York, was absent from the balcony, as were Harry and Meghan and their two children, because they are no longer working royals. Prince Andrew stepped away from public duties amid controversy over his links with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The Sussexes gave up front-line royal duties two years ago and moved to California, but did return to London to take a low-key part in the jubilee celebrations.
Andrew, 62, was expected to attend Friday's jubilee Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral but will not after testing positive for COVID-19.
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Prince William and Duchess Kate's children ride with mom and Duchess Camilla for Trooping of Colour Parade
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Trooping parade, which celebrates her official birthday (her real one is in April), was much reduced and confined to Windsor Castle where the queen has been living full time since spring 2020.
So Thursday was a return to the good old days pre-pandemic, when the British crown regularly showed off its unsurpassed skills at throwing a right royal "knees up" party.
The Trooping ceremony is one of the most beloved in Britain, as a tradition started by one of the queen's ancestors, George II, in 1748 to celebrate the monarch's birthday in a month when better weather could at least be expected.
Another first: The Cambridge kids, the queen's great-grandchildren, Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4, rode in a royal carriage with their mother, Duchess Kate of Cambridge, and their step-grandmother, Duchess Camilla of Cornwall.
In most of the 70 years of the queen's longest-ever reign, she has taken the salute either mounted on her own horse or in a carriage at Horse Guards parade grounds at the other end of The Mall from the palace. But with her current "mobility" problems, that was ruled out.
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Instead, her son and heir, Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, 73, presided over the ceremonies at Horse Guards, accompanied by his elder son, Prince William Duke of Cambridge, 39, and the queen's daughter, Princess Anne the Princess Royal, 71, all mounted and dressed in ceremonial military uniforms, including towering bearskin hats for the princes.
The ceremony marked Prince Charles' increasingly prominent role as Britain's future king, as he has taken on more of the queen's duties when she has needed to rest.
Other members of the royal family, including Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex, were invited to watch the marching troops from the Major General's Office overlooking the parade ground. The parade then marched back down The Mall to the palace to salute the queen.
Contributing: Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless, Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Queen Elizabeth II appears on palace balcony for Platinum Jubilee