Back to work after a jubilee weekend of two halves

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The Independent Online

Many watched England's World Cup torture over a fry-up. Others fled Britain's longest public holiday for foreign countries. But most simply gathered to see Buckingham Palace go up in flames – twice.

Many watched England's World Cup torture over a fry-up. Others fled Britain's longest public holiday for foreign countries. But most simply gathered to see Buckingham Palace go up in flames – twice.

Tourist operators, pub landlords, broadcasters and pig farmers emerged yesterday as big beneficiaries of a jubilee weekend in which patriotic fervour, football and barbecues vied for the nation's attention.

The four-day weekend had been billed as Britain's biggest excuse to party for more than a generation, with the happy collision of the World Cup, the celebration of a monarch's long reign and the June sunshine. But a broad coalition of retailers, transport chiefs and street party organisers has described a more mixed picture of the 96-hour jamboree, judging – appropriately – that it had been a game of two halves. While 1.5 million people poured into the Mall for the Party at the Palace pop concert on Monday night, millions more went out of their way to avoid jubilee-related events.

According to the English Tourism Council, less than one-third of people expressed an intention to go to a jubilee celebration.

Instead, the motorways jammed up on Friday and Saturday, while football's big breakfast on Sunday was a queasy affair as millions watched England stutter to a draw against Sweden. Then it started raining.

Des Lynam seemed to pick up on the nation's mood when he told viewers watching England's lacklustre performance: "If you want to go get a cup of tea, or something else, then now's the time."

By Sunday night, it seemed the only winners were holiday companies and supermarkets who had benefited from a rush to their tills to stock up for the forthcoming celebrations.

Airport lounges filled up as 1.6 million people left the country, the Association of British Travel Agents said, with the Canaries and the Balearics the most popular destinations.

Retailers reported a booming trade in World Cup and jubilee staples including beer, champagne, pizzas, eggs and plastic flags.

Tesco and Sainsbury's reported particularly strong surges in sales of bacon and sausages. Tesco said yesterday that it had sold up to 1.5 million more bangers than usual as 12.5 million fans got out of bed to watch Beckham et al over a cooked breakfast.

The British Beer and Pub Association, whose members own half of Britain's 65,000 pubs, said an estimated seven million extra pints of beer, worth about £17m, were sold on Sunday – doubtless to England fans drowning their sorrows.

Underlining a growing sense of anti-climax, organisers of a jubilee street party in West Kirby, Merseyside, had their bunting and Union flags stolen from the trees and lampposts from which they were hanging. Evelyn Wilkinson, one of the victims, said: "I'm very angry. There is sheltered housing here, so the thieves must have known there would be lots of old people who would be looking forward to the party."

To make matters worse, by 6.40pm on Sunday a fire in an empty flat in the west terrace of Buckingham Palace provoked a rash of news flashes that suggested the jubilee might be going up in smoke.

But little more than 12 hours later, as 4,400 official street parties started and the success of the Buckingham Palace concerts was measured by the length of the queues waiting for the portable lavatories, the nation began to enjoy itself.

London Underground said more than one million people had used the Tube network, justifying its decision to run the system throughout the night.

Economists predicted the combined effects of extra domestic and international tourism and spending in shops and on services would add about £3bn to the economy.

The English Tourism Council said 20 million Britons were thought to have left their homes for a day trip or short break, spending £1.5bn.

While less than one third of people (32 per cent) were heading for a jubilee event, according to a survey by the tourism council, about 85 per cent went for a day trip instead, or entertained or visited friends and family.

Jubilee organisers insisted that the event had been a "wonderful success". A spokeswoman said: "Judging by the size and the warmth of the crowds, it has been a truly memorable four days."

In support of the theory that people were just as interested in royalty as football, the BBC said peak viewing for the Party at the Palace had reached 15.1 million – about one million more than for the England game – during the fireworks display at the climax of the concert.

This time, apparently, people were gawping at the spectacle of a blazing symbol of monarchy for suitably public-spirited reasons.

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