Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Spectacular scenes as 'the greatest show on earth' unfolds on the Thames

June 3, 2012
Share this:

Rowing boats, military vessels, kayaks and barges joined over 1,000 vessels, decked out in streamers and Union Jacks, on the River Thames on Sunday in the biggest nautical show seen in London for 350 years.

Billed as "the greatest show on earth" it was the most spectacular event of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Many had sailed hundreds of miles to take part in the largest flotilla assembled on the river since 1662, to honour the Queen’s 60-year reign.They were charged with escorting the monarch and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who were aboard the Spirit of Chartwell, along the seven mile route.

The impressive flotilla took 75 minutes to pass any given point and was cheered by an estimated one million who in true British fashion braved the grim conditions to watch.

It was led by a floating belfry carrying a new set of eight church bells cast especially for the Jubilee.

Each one was named after a senior member of the Royal Family – Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, Anne, Andrew, Edward, William and Henry – and as the bells ring out, they were answered by churches along the route.

The belfry was followed by the 94ft royal barge Gloriana, which is covered in gold leaf and powered by 18 oarsmen including Olympic medal-winners Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent.

Also on the river were a group of Maoris, powering their way along the Thames in a traditional Waka boat from New Zealand that provided barely any shelter.

Their inclusion was a nod to the fact that many countries around the world call Elizabeth II their Queen.

river boats1

The pageant began at Battersea and ended at Tower Bridge, where an Avenue of Sail – boats too large to take part in the pageant itself – was waiting, forming a nautical Guard of Honour along the banks of the Thames.

Other notable vessels included the Dunkirk little ships, some of the 700 private boats that helped rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers during World War II.Hundreds of people had camped overnight to claim the best viewing spots.

Who was travelling on which vessel? 

Tender to HMY Britannia

  • Who was on board: The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall
  • The Queen was said to be “very pleased” about travelling on the tender to the former Royal Yacht Britannia and was “looking forward” to the nostalgic trip.
  • Her Majesty is said to have wiped a tear from her eye as she and other members of her family attended a ceremony in Portsmouth to mark the end of the royal yacht’s service in 1997. She boarded the tender at Chelsea Pier to motor to Cadogan Pier, where her party joins the Royal Barge.


  • Who was on board: The Duke of York and his daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex; the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester; Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Lady Frederick Windsor
  • Built originally as a flagship for the Port of London Authority, Havengore’s moment of glory came when she was chosen to carry Sir Winston Churchill on his last journey at the culmination of his state funeral in 1965, when she was watched by a worldwide audience of 350 million people.
  • Today she carries a plaque inscribed with the words of the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby that day: “And so Havengore sails into history – not even the Golden Hinde has borne so great a man.” Built in 1954, she was a working boat until the early 1990s. Australian Owen Palmer then Chris Ryland took her over and between them gave her a multimillion-pound facelift, completely restoring her and making her totally operational.
  • Constructed in oak and teak, she is used as a passenger vessel and to host visiting dignitaries on ceremonial occasions.

Trinity House No. 1

  • Who was on board: The Princess Royal and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence
  • This historic vessel is owned by Trinity House, the general lighthouse authority of the UK, which has taken care of shipping and the welfare of seafarers since being granted a royal charter by Henry VIII in 1514.
  • Trinity House is ruled by a court of 35 Elder Brethren, presided over by a Master – at present the Princess Royal. On pageant day, the Brethren will exercise their long-standing tradition of accompanying the reigning monarch when he or she is onboard ship in territorial waters


  • Who was on board: Michael and Carole Middleton and their children Pippa and James as well as Lord Coe, chairman of the Olympics organising committee.
  • The 235-seater vessel is a replica 1890s Mississippi paddle steamer. The fact that the Middleton family has been included in the Royal Squadron, which is reserved for guests of the Queen, is indicative of the sovereign’s approval of the Duchess of Cambridge and the closeness of her family.
  • The Prince of Wales has also arranged for his former valet Michael Fawcett, who now works as a party planner, to be on board on the day to ensure that everything runs smoothly.


Sign up to HELLO Daily! for the best royal, celebrity and lifestyle coverage

By entering your details, you are agreeing to HELLO! Magazine User Data Protection Policy. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, please click here.

  • Who was on board: Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent
  • Powered by 18 oarsmen – including Olympic medal-winning rowers Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent – this 88ft row-barge leads the flotilla behind the Jubilee Bells. The first royal barge to be built in 100 years, it was created by master craftsman Mark Edwards in his Richmond boatyard. 
  • Featuring sweet chestnut sourced from the Duchy of Cornwall, the private estate of the Prince of Wales, it features sculptures of a mermaid and a sea serpent and is adorned with £4,000 worth of gold leaf.

More Royalty

See more