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A gloomy, gray - and great - day for the UK

Celebrating her 60 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II and her family floated down the river on the Royal Barge. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

It was, perhaps fittingly, a typical British summer's day.

As I rode my bike toward Tower Bridge, the rain came tipping down from heavy gray skies and poured over me and the million other people who had crowded through London's streets to line the banks of the River Thames.

But this was no ordinary summer's day. It's been more than 300 years since a huge pageant of ships sailed down the river — 60 years since Elizabeth became our queen.

Queen leads giant Diamond Jubilee flotilla on London's rainy Thames

A thousand ships, stretching seven miles long, led by dozens of rowing boats pushing their way through the choppy waters. A floating bell tower carrying the royal jubilee bells, their peals answered by church belfries all along the route. Little ships that had courageously evacuated Allied forces from under Nazi bombs at Dunkirk more than 70 years ago. History sailing in front of your eyes.

Boats with orchestras, trumpeters, bagpipes, choirs and drums. Steamships sounding their horns. Artillery firing a royal salute from the Tower of London. And a bedraggled throng of spectators all along both river banks, cheering and singing — Union flags in one hand; umbrellas in the other.

Then the royal barge, fittingly majestic, sailing by under the raised wings of Tower Bridge. I could barely make out the queen on board. But she was there, waving that stiff little royal wave of hers and doing what she always does so well: getting on with it.

I confess I'm not much of a monarchist — the monarchy has always seemed to me to reinforce the sense of privilege and class that still divides this country. But as we both get older (she's 86; I'm not) my views get softer. And I have to hand it to the old lady: After 60 years doing the job, seven days a week, she's surely not a quitter.

In pictures: Britain honors Queen Elizabeth II with Diamond Jubilee

As I squeezed my way past the crowds and the renovated warehouses that once crammed the streets by the river, I passed thousands of families making their way to the water's edge. Kids in buggies who had no idea what was going on but who will no doubt gaze at the photos in years to come and be glad they were there. Grandparents who remember the queen's coronation in 1953, and have grown old with her.

Melissa Harris-Perry and her panelists — Hill columnist Karen Finney; Robert Traynham, former communications director for Rick Santorum; former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder; and Nation correspondent Ari Melber — look at the celebrations going on across the Atlantic.

And thousands of visitors who saw the worst of the weather and the best of British history and tradition on the same day.

Secret donors, foreign firms bankroll UK’s Diamond Jubilee celebration

As I got close to the site of our broadcast, I came to a bottleneck of spectators. In the road, and slowing them down, a group of anti-royal protesters carrying placards and making speeches. Police were standing quietly by.

"It's a good day for the queen," shouted one demonstrator, "and a bad day for democracy."

Not quite, I thought. It's been a good day for both. Good that the queen should celebrate 60 years of service to her country. And good for democracy that we live in a country where people are free to disagree.

My favorite moment? Our correspondent who — after outlining the amazing pageant of a thousand ships that sailed down the river with the queen in the pouring rain — was asked what else Her Majesty was going to do today. As if that wasn't enough.

No, it was most surely not an ordinary summer's day.

And you have to hope, don't you, that after 60 years on the throne, the queen is taking the rest of the day off?

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