By Beatrice Debut, AFP
LONDON — From the gritty borough of Hackney to the ritzy streets of central London, Britons of all backgrounds defied the rain on Sunday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee with thousands of picnics. Revelers took over the streets, loading trestle tables with party snacks and drinks to toast the queen’s 60-year reign, seizing the chance to celebrate the historic occasion with neighbors. In the cosmopolitan east London community of Hackney, Jane Money, 34, was kitted out in wellington boots and waterproofs as her husband erected a marquee, freshly bought that morning.
“It’s all about coming out together with the community and meeting people,” said Money.
Presiding over a spread of traditional pies, sausages and champagne, the hostess called the event “a real insight into British heritage.” Picnics and street gatherings are a popular British tradition and millions took part in street parties for the queen’s silver jubilee in 1977. For this year’s diamond celebrations, organizers of the “Big Lunch” predicted six million participants but many outdoor events fell foul of the weather. Even the party at Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street residence had to be moved indoors. Others though claimed the bad weather was further cause for celebration. “It’s the best ever jubilee because it’s typically British; it’s raining!” quipped Toby Wheldon, 28, in front of a cafe in Hackney. Three miles across the city, but a cultural world away, well-healed merrymakers threw what was possibly the country’s smartest street party on Piccadilly, the chic shopping street a short walk from Buckingham Palace. The streets here were lined with champagne-quaffing guests, dancers and musicians as the smell of barbecues wafted from a tent next to the exclusive Fortnum and Mason store, known as the “grocer to the queen.” At midday, surprise guests Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, who is sponsoring the “Big Lunch,” came to greet the hundreds of people enjoying the celebrations. “It’s just not us in the pouring rain!” laughed 79-year-old Shirley Dixon. “We saw the back of their heads, it was quite exciting,” added Eleanor Kendall. Partygoers shielded themselves from the elements with ponchos and umbrellas while admiring enthusiasts bedecked in Union Jack ties and sunglasses and a dog dressed in red, white and blue. “This is our first street party, we didn’t want to miss it,” explained Kendall. “It’s a once-in-a-life-time opportunity.”