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Britain revels in diamond jubilee

Monarchy gains favor as queen marks 60 years

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II arrived at Epsom race course on Saturday at the start of a four-day celebration of her reign, just three years shy of surpassing Queen Victoria’s time on the throne.

LONDON - Stung by royal breakups, relentless snipping over her tax-free status, and a fire at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II famously dubbed 1992 her annus horribilis, or horrible year.

But now, the world’s highest profile monarch finds herself basking in the glow of an annus mirabilis - marvelous year.

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Commemorating her 60th year on the throne, the queen’s “diamond jubilee’’ is drawing an estimated one million people to London for a four-day fete that started Saturday.

In terms of sheer pageantry, it will dwarf last year’s nuptials of her grandson Prince William and his bride, Catherine Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge.

On Saturday the queen, arrived at the Epsom race course, southwest of London, to watch Derby. Elizabeth, 86, and her husband Prince Philip, 90, were cheered by a crowd estimated at 150,000 people.

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Later in weekend the queen will board a royal barge to lead a 1,000-vessel flotilla down the Thames in a majestic scene inspired by a Canaletto painting.

Paul McCartney and Elton John will serenade her at a glittering concert outside Buckingham Palace. And the celebration will culminate Tuesday with a day of pageantry including a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The 60-year milestone puts Elizabeth just three years shy of becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch, after Queen Victoria. But the observance has deeper significance.

At a time when the missteps of King Juan Carlos has Spain seriously rethinking the wisdom of monarchy, she is also symbolically marking the revival of a British royal house that has defied the odds by bringing a nation - and a world - back under its spell.

For a family once described as Britain’s most dysfunctional, and where whispers of republicanism seemed to swirl with every new tabloid headline, the rising fortunes of the British royals amount to what observers call a public relations coup.

Though support for the monarchy has always been strong, a new opinion poll by Ipsos Mori shows 80 percent of Britons want to keep the royals - the most since surveys began in the 1980s.

Many credit the supernova wedding that produced the global stars known as “Will and Kate’’ for providing the House of Windsor with its undeniable boost.

But in the year since the bunting came down from Westminster Abbey, the royals appear to have solidified those gains, with even Prince Charles and his second wife, Camilla, scoring fresh points with the public.

To herald the diamond jubilee, Buckingham Palace has launched a charm offensive, with the queen’s national tour over the past several months drawing crowds that would be the envy of any aging rock star.

But royal watchers also say the palace has been using this year to begin the process of passing the torch, with the queen dispatching younger royals on domestic and international tours that have raised the family’s profile and spread the gospel of the House of Windsor near and far.

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