Never mind the boats, the crowd came for the wave

It was like Christmas and a royal wedding rolled into one. Tom Peck joined the masses in front of Buckingham Palace
  • @tompeck

Two bank holidays one after the other was always going to feel like Christmas come early, and now we've even got a televised message from Her Majesty to go with it. After three days and an estimated £32m worth of celebrations, yesterday evening Ma'am said thanks.

In a message broadcast yesterday evening, and recorded at Buckingham Palace three days ago, the Queen said she had found the jubilee celebrations a "humbling experience". "It has touched me deeply to see so many thousands of families, neighbours and friends celebrating together in such a happy atmosphere," she said. "I hope that memories of all this year's happy events will brighten our lives for many years to come."

As for the celebrations themselves, after the bunting, the boats, the Beatle and the bladder infection, it was, as always, that little wrist that stole the show. More than a million people lined the Mall in the wind and rain, to witness its gentle undulation up there on the balcony. They were not disappointed. Age does not weary the royal wave, nor the years condemn. When, finally it came, in its white silk glove, attached to a kind old lady in a mint-coloured dress, Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster bombers were roaring over Buckingham Palace, and the thousands of loyal subjects swarming around the Victoria Memorial erupted with joy.

The Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla, Wills, Kate and Harry all drove away from the palace – where thousands of ticket-holders had already amassed to witness their return fully five hours later – to a thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral. Thanks was duly given, by the Prime Minister, who read from the Book of Romans, and by the Archbishop of Canterbury. "She has made her 'public' happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home," he said. The service was beamed back to the crowds waiting outside the Palace, but when Her Majesty went off to a reception with the Lord Mayor at Mansion House in the City, and from there to a lunch at Westminster Hall, there wasn't a vast amount to do but wait.

When she returned, it was in a carriage with Charles and Camilla, flanked by scores of horses, for the most part jet black, and their riders, ferocious looking in their gleaming breast plates and helmets, swords in scabbards. For those with more Bolshevik views on the monarchy, this would not have been the opportune moment to express them. At the all-important balcony moment, as all day, the Duke of Edinburgh remained sadly conspicuous by his absence. He is said to be "disappointed" at having missed so much of the celebrations. Prince Andrew, his youngest son, went to visit him yesterday at the King Edward VII (his great grandfather in-law) Hospital in London, and told reporters waiting outside he was "getting better and just needs some rest".

The rain and the cold arrived almost exactly on cue, 10 minutes or so before the first sign of stirring behind that famous balcony door. The family emerged to the sound of "God Save the Queen", played by the band of the Irish Guards below in the Palace forecourt. Then the crowds got what they came for; the wave. First Elizabeth, in isolation. Then Charles, Camilla, Harry, William and Kate were all at it. Eighty of the officers indulged in more than one feu-de-joie, literally a fire of joy, which involves simultaneously blasting 80 blank rounds up at the monarch. The gasp of fright from the crowd after each one was punctuated, predictably, by the sound of crying babies, though it wasn't long before the Red Arrows fly-past drowned them out, and Her Majesty's face broke into a broad grin.

Pomp is not a political principle. Pageantry does not delegitimise questions about the merit of the thing being honoured. But there's no denying, the pomp and pageantry was very good.