Queen Elizabeth II spent the first day of her Diamond Jubilee Weekend at the races in Epsom, England, a tradition older than Kentucky Derby. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.
LONDON -- A thousand boats on the River Thames -- the biggest water-borne celebration for more than 350 years -- and hundreds of thousands of loyal subjects lining the river banks to watch a floating belfry carrying huge bronze bells, followed by a Royal Barge bearing the monarch and her closest family. This is the showpiece of Sunday's celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.
Up and down the land, roads are closed off so people outside the capital can join the festivities -- almost 10,000 street parties were organized. The four-day holiday will go unnoticed by no one. This is a national celebration of monarchy; after all only one other British royal has reached this landmark -- Queen Victoria in 1897.
Amid all this pageantry and partying one voice is straining to be heard: that of the Republican movement, which believes this is all utter nonsense.
"What are we celebrating? A singularly undistinguished family's hold on the nation, a mirage of nationhood, a majestic delusion," writes journalist Polly Toynbee, a member of Republic, an organization campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy.
Vying with the teaming crowds of royal enthusiasts, the group organized a demonstration beside the River Thames at London's Tower Bridge. There supporters will attempt to make their point to the Queen and other members of her family as they glide past in the Royal Barge.
There might be four days of celebrations in Great Britain for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but some Londoners still have to work. NBC's Duncan Golestani finds a quick way to join in the fun.
"We are speaking out for the millions who oppose the monarchy," Republic's campaign manager Graham Smith told NBC News. "This is not something to celebrate. We have an unelected head of state who has been here for sixty years."
Are the Republicans merely party-poopers or do they represent an important segment of public opinion?
Republic claims support for their movement is increasing rapidly. Smith says the group had 7,000 volunteers supporting their work when Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton was announced in 2010. Eighteen months later that number has risen to 25,000, he says.
But opinion polls suggest the Republican movement has so far not won popular support. A recent poll conducted by Populus found 82 percent want to stick with the monarchy and keep the Queen as head of state. Whichever way you look at it, that is a resounding majority.
But Republic is optimistic. "This (diamond jubilee) is good for our movement. The jubilee celebrations will soon be forgotten but more people will have had an opportunity to think about the role of the monarchy in our society," Smith believes. "The monarchy is expensive, unaccountable and a drag on our democratic process ... a broken institution."
Britain is in a dark place economically and the government's austerity measures are hurting many. So these lavish celebrations in honor of a figurehead who leads a life of luxury way beyond the reach of her subjects are at odds with the downbeat national spirit.
Which should, perhaps, make this fertile ground for a Republican movement keen to recruit those who find the contrast unpalatable.
It is, however, far more likely that four days of glitter and pageantry are, for most Britons, a welcome period of escapism -- meaning that the Republicans call for change will, over this weekend at least, not be heard above the clamorous support for the monarchy.
But the Republicans will not be disheartened -- they know they are playing a long game.
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