A rapturous flag-waving crowd of more than 100,000 cheered Queen Elizabeth II at Epsom racecourse in Britain on Saturday as she began four days of celebrations for her diamond jubilee.
Gun salutes rang out across the country to mark the anniversary of her coronation before the 86-year-old queen arrived to watch the races, smiling broadly as she and husband Prince Philip were driven past the winning post.
In a surge of enthusiasm for the monarchy across Britain, thousands of people paraded through Perth in Scotland for the jubilee, many held community parties, and villages competed to create the longest stretch of bunting.
Crowds even turned out to watch military bands rehearse in London ahead of the main celebrations for the queen's 60 years on the throne.
"It's not every morning you wake up on a day that will be written about in the history books," declared The Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper.
"Make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. It may be centuries before another comes along."
Cloudy weather and forecasts of rain did not deter the public from partying amid the highest support for the royals in decades. A recent poll showed about 80 percent of Britons want the country to stay a monarchy.
People were already camping in tents beside the Thames river ahead of a pageant of about 1,000 boats that will sail through London on Sunday with the queen in a royal barge decked with 10,000 flowers.
"There is huge excitement. The queen has done a terrific job in the past 60 years," said Andrew Phasey, whose canal narrowboat will be part of the pageant.
"We feel hugely privileged to be taking part. It will be a terrific day."
Britons have planned more than 9,500 street parties for Sunday, although there are concerns about forecasts of heavy rain.
On Monday, some 4,000 beacons will be lit across the Commonwealth following a huge picnic and star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace.
Tuesday, which like Monday is a public holiday, will be devoted to ceremonial events including a thanksgiving service and carriage procession.
The queen, a keen rider and racehorse owner, and her husband were on Saturday watching races including the Epsom Derby, Britain's richest horse race.
Paratroopers descended to the racecourse trailing huge Union Jack flags and red smoke ahead of their arrival with sons Andrew and Edward, young princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and other members of the royal family.
The queen wore royal blue and her trademark matching hat with flowers, while Prince Philip, 90, waved his top hat to the crowd of 130,000 people.
Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins sang the national anthem, while Buckingham Palace posted on Twitter: "And we're off! The #diamondjubilee weekend begins."
Queen Elizabeth later presented the 110-year-old Coronation Cup, renamed the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup for the occasion, to the team behind winning horse St Nicholas Abbey, who also won the race last year, ahead of the Derby.
Rachel Molloy, 28, a singer from London, said over strawberries and champagne, "We waved to her and it was very exciting because we've never seen the queen this close. She looked happy."
"I just want to see the queen," said Chinese student Adora Lin, 22, from the factory mega-city of Shenzhen, who had bought a new hat for the occasion.
"I'm not going to bet. I just want to see how people dress up and celebrate."
Prince William and wife Catherine -- whose 2011 wedding drew two billion TV viewers and was credited with reviving public interest in the royals -- did not attend Saturday's events but will appear on the royal barge on Sunday.
Thousands of people including 1,000 pipers and drummers, girl scouts and boy scouts meanwhile held a parade in Perth despite an ongoing campaign in Scotland for independence from the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, even republican party Sinn Fein has supported celebrations and offered a gift to the queen for the occasion.
Shops across Britain were doing a brisk trade in Union Jack accessories, commemorative china, masks of the royals and even jubilee garden gnomes.
Festivities are set to be more muted across the Commonwealth, mostly made up of former British colonies, but British soldiers were pictured in Afghanistan serving celebratory tea from a gold-coloured teapot.
The queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, upon the death of her father King George VI while she was away in Kenya, and was crowned the following year on June 2, amid massive public enthusiasm despite heavy rain.© ANP/AFP