London: Queen Elizabeth II received a rapturous welcome from a flag-waving crowd of more than 100,000 at a British racecourse on Sunday as she kicked off four days of national celebrations for her diamond jubilee. (Agencies)
Gun salutes rang out across the country before the 86-year-old queen arrived for the Epsom Derby, smiling broadly as she and husband Prince Philip, 90, were driven past the winning post, amid cheers from well-wishers.
In a surge of enthusiasm for the monarchy across Britain, thousands paraded through Perth in Scotland for the jubilee, many others held community parties and villages competed to create the longest stretch of bunting.
Crowds even turned out to watch military bands rehearse in London ahead of the main celebrations marking the queen's 60 years on the throne, support for the royals at its highest level in decades.
A recent poll showed about 80 per cent of Britons want the country to remain a monarchy.
At the Epsom Downs racecourse just outside London, bookmaker Diane Barrett said: "It's a very special year. It's never going to be like this again."
Unexpected sunshine broke out, to more cheers from the 130,000 racegoers, as the queen, a keen rider and racehorse owner, watched the races from a balcony garlanded with flowers.
Paratroopers descended to the racecourse trailing huge Union Jack flags and red smoke ahead of the couple's arrival with sons Andrew and Edward, young princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and other members of the royal family.
The queen wore royal blue and her trademark matching hat with flowers.
As Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins sang the national anthem, Buckingham Palace posted on Twitter: "And we're off! The #diamondjubilee weekend begins."
Queen Elizabeth presented the 110-year-old Coronation Cup, renamed the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup for the occasion, to the team behind winning horse St Nicholas Abbey, which also won the race last year.
But the showpiece of the day was Britain's richest race, the Epsom Derby, won by favourite Camelot.
But the queen's own horse Set to Music could only manage second in a race at Haydock Park in northwest England.
Rachel Molloy, 28, a singer from London, said over strawberries and champagne, "We waved to her and it was very exciting because we've never seen the queen this close. She looked happy."
"I just want to see the queen," said Chinese student Adora Lin, 22, from the factory mega-city of Shenzhen, who had bought a new hat for the occasion.
London: Queen Elizabeth II received a rapturous welcome from a flag-waving crowd of more than 100,000 at a British racecourse on Sunday as she kicked off four days of national celebrations for her diamond jubilee.