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10:35pm UK, Saturday June 02, 2012
A thousand boats will take to the River Thames on Sunday for what will be the major public event of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Up to a million people are expected to watch from the river banks and public spaces in London as a flotilla stretching for miles travels towards Tower Bridge.
For those lucky enough to bag a place in the Pageant, it has been months of hard graft to get their boats ready.
“We’ve gone from excitement to exhaustion to excitement again” said David Sowter who will be steering his narrow boat Orlando up the river beside 999 others.
“We’ve had to repaint, get the engine checked, we’ve lost sleep getting down here. But it’s something different. It is never going to happen again”.
His wife Rosie talks with excitement about “making history”.
She said: “This is a once in a lifetime. The last time this sort of event happened was 350 years ago.
“It’s so lovely to see all the Union Jacks out and see all the people. I come from a generation where we liked street parties and royal celebrations. It’s so exciting to see that again.”
The Sowters will be just two of 20,000 people aboard the 1,000 vessels on Sunday.
Some of the boats that will take part in the River Pageant
And in the countdown to the moment, the Thames gave a taste of what is to come.
Vessels from all over the nation converged on the capital and made their way along the river to take up their positions for the start of the pageant near Putney.
Family boats, barges, motor boats, vast sailing ships will join some of the iconic craft of British history in a flotilla which will travel 25 miles along the Thames.
The boats will pass under all 13 central London river crossings from Battersea Bridge and Tower Bridge in what could turn out to be the largest live public event ever held in London.
It is not only a logistical but a huge security challenge. Safety on the water and in the crowds is paramount and will involve a massive police effort.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh from the Metropolitan Police said: “This is a pretty unique event for us.
“Bigger than Notting Hill, bigger than the Royal Wedding. Six thousand officers along the line of the Thames working with thousands of stewards.
“Eighteen months of work with the pageant organisers, Transport for London, Port of London Authority, it’s been pulling together a unique set of challenges with that number of craft on the Thames.”
But if preparation is the key then what is set to be biggest public event of the Diamond Jubilee should go swimmingly.
At least that is what those who have put in blood, sweat and tears over the last year are hoping.
They know the pressure is on. It will not be just the Queen casting a critical eye but, via the airwaves, a global audience of billions.