Diamond Jubilee pageant – Sunday on the Thames

For many, the highlight of the Jubilee celebrations will be the incredible River Thames event this weekend

At 2.40pm on Sunday a boat carrying eight church bells cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry each named after a member of the royal family – will slip its mooring near Battersea bridge in London and euphorically announce the start of the greatest nautical parade ever seen on the River Thames.


With its bells ringing, the belfry barge will lead the Jubilee pageant downriver towards Tower Bridge, with churches along the seven-mile route reciprocating with peels of approval.

As the vessel moves off she’ll be followed by more than 250 rowing boats – led by the majestic Gloriana, which is decorated with £4,000 worth of gold leaf and will be crewed by, among others, Olympians Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.

More than 1,000 other boats will follow in their wake, including the Spirit of Chartwell which the key members of the royal party, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, will be travelling on. Once the mustered boats are underway the flotilla will be a staggering five miles long, divided into ten sections with each section headed by a music boat. For keen observers of our maritime history the participating boats represent a unique nautical who’s who.

Havengore, the boat that bore the body of Sir Winston Churchill during his state funeral in 1965 will take its place in the flotilla, as will 41 vessels that took part in the historic evacuation of Dunkirk during the last war. The oldest boat on display is the St Michael’s Mount State Barge, which was reputedly built in Cornwall in 1740.

Bringing up the rear will be the London Philharmonic Orchestra whose repertoire has been chosen to chime with London landmarks – the James Bond theme tune as they pass the MI6 building, music from the The Dam Busters at the RAF memorial and, finally at about 5.30pm, as the boat approaches the finishing point of Tower Bridge, the National Anthem.

Says Pageant Master Adrian Evans: “It’s a massive production and it’s going to be an utterly spectacular Jubilee celebration.

Pageant on TV

● The BBC’s coverage of the river pageant will be led by Matt Baker and Sophie Raworth from a studio overlooking the Thames at Tower Bridge. Sky News’s coverage is headed up by Eamonn Holmes.

● Eight small, remotely controlled, cameras will be placed discreetly around the Spirit of Chartwell, which the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be travelling on. A BBC director will be below decks monitoring the images.

● Clare Balding will be joining disabled ex-servicemen, Olympians Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent and Thames watermen on the royal row boat Gloriana. They’ll raise their oars as they pass the Queen’s boat to help start the pageant.

● The BBC will have its own presentation boat where the likes of Frank Skinner and Sue Johnston will be holding court.

The Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant is on BBC1, Sunday at 1.30pm


This article was first published in the Radio Times (2-8 June)