'It was a sea of faces, flags and noise. It took my breath away'

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What an incredible day. The enormity of what was happening was apparent by 7am, first from the television coverage of the build-up to the parade and then from the front pages of the newspapers.

On television, there were people being interviewed who'd been in Trafalgar Square all night just so they'd get a better view of our bus. That was weird enough but then, according to the papers, I'd been having some hot romance with Zara Phillips.

The fact that a story like that was on a front page spoke volumes about the interest. Does anyone think it would have been there if we hadn't won the World Cup? Neither do I.

The story provoked inevitable banter from the lads. It was good natured, all the things you'd expect on the morning that we were going to visit the Queen. The fact is Zara and I are friends. We met up in Sydney. We went to a party on Saturday. We're mates. Some people insist on putting two and two together and coming up with six but it doesn't bother me and there's nothing I can do about it.

All of us were really excited before we got on the bus and that just grew as the day went on. Going under Marble Arch was a massive honour. No one goes under there apart from royalty, do they?

From the start, the crowds were unbelievable, going crazy. They were hanging on traffic lights, standing on roofs, waving flags, chanting, singing "Swing Low".

It was awesome. A few friends were there, apparently, but there was zero chance of seeing them. The only way to spot individuals was if they happened to swinging off the top of a lamppost. But if any of my mates were doing that, I missed it.

My mum and dad weren't there because, after being in Australia for four weeks, they had to go back to work in Wakefield. That's one of the reasons I spent most of the journey with a camcorder in my hand, trying to capture it all. I know we were the focus of the attention and all those hundreds of thousands of people had come to see us but when it comes down to it we're just normal blokes who wanted to get the whole thing on video too.

The whole day was so unreal that I just wanted to capture part of it for later. If there was one single moment of the parade when I was silenced it was turning the corner into Trafalgar Square.

It was completely packed, just a sea of faces and flags and noise. It took my breath away. Then I noticed a couple of crazy guys with their tops off in the fountain despite the fact it was freezing. I just thought: "Fair play, everyone's gone nuts."

After a few speeches and a bit more singing, we went back to the hotel for some food. They'd done a nice spread, quite healthy stuff. There was a bit of champagne floating around too although with most of the boys due to play at the weekend, we didn't over-indulge at that point. That didn't stop the wives and girlfriends.

Then it was back on to another bus and off to Buckingham Palace. How odd does that sound? It's one of those places that you've seen on television a thousand times, you know all about the history and the importance of the place. And then when we got there, my overriding impression was: "Big, isn't it?"

We were taken into a waiting room first, although it's the first waiting room I've ever seen with an original Rembrandt on the wall. It was probably priceless and there were loads of other paintings too.

When we got into the main reception room, we had a squad photograph with the Queen and then we were all introduced individually to Her Majesty.

I shook her hand and said hello. For the record, she made no gags like, "What have been up to with my granddaughter, then?" In fact her main concern was that we'd had to spend all that time on an open-top bus, even though it was so bloody cold. My words, not hers. She said: "Nice to see you've thawed out."

Zara was there. I'd already phoned her to tell her about the story so she'd seen it by the time we were at the Palace. We had a laugh about it and that was it.

The only other official engagement was the trip to Downing Street. I'd been looking forward to it because it's just one of those special places. I don't mean because of the politics ­ that does nothing for me, to be honest ­ but the gates, the big black door, the sense of history.

The function itself was handshakes and smiles. And then it was off to Lawrence Dallaglio's testimonial dinner, with every intention of having a few cheeky drinks and a good night to round off an amazing day.

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