A beaming Queen Elizabeth waved to cheering crowds massed outside London’s Buckingham Palace on Thursday as Britain kicked off four days of pomp, parties and parades to celebrate her record-breaking 70 years on the British throne. Carrying union flags and picnic bags, some people had slept in tents to secure a spot outside the palace to watch the Trooping the Colour parade – an annual military event since 1760 to mark the sovereign’s official birthday – which began the celebrations. It involves a regimental flag or “colour” that is trooped through the ranks, with some 1,500 soldiers and officers taking part. Elizabeth took part on horseback until 1986, five years after a man fired six blank shots at her as she rode by. She was unharmed. The jubilee is also a chance to see the queen and other royals with Prince Charles playing a key role, including taking the salute of passing soldiers on his mother’s behalf. The queen has had trouble getting around lately, and her courtiers have been careful to keep things as simple for her as possible. The 96-year-old is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The celebrations are giving many people, even those indifferent to the monarchy, a chance to reflect on the state of the nation and the huge changes that have taken place during Elizabeth’s reign. “It’s probably going to be the only time, or one of the only times, that the queen is going to be able to do this,” said Paul Fletcher, 55, who works for the National Health Service (NHS). “It’s been 70 years on the throne for the queen. It’s never been known before and I don’t think it would ever happen again.” Kimber Beasley from the United States called the queen “a great example” for America and the whole world. “It’s a part of history. How many times do you get to see this?” she said. Union flags hung over crowd barriers or were stuck jauntily from headbands, while some fans wrapped themselves in the flag and painted it on their cheeks. Some wore T-shirts in the red, white and blue national colours while many men opted for Union flag suits and hats. Others added royal accessories like crowns and cloaks. One of the most enthusiastic royal fans was nine-year-old Lily from London, who came with her mother, sang the national anthem “God Save The Queen” and waved a flag. She said the queen was the “most important person in the country”. For 61-year-old tree surgeon David Hare, the event was joyful after grim world events. “I think it’s just great to have a celebration.....for the next four days... to forget about all those things for the day,” he said, citing “Covid and this sad, sad war in Ukraine”. There was a long line for those able to obtain tickets for seated stands, allocated by a ballot. Among these were 65-year-old Gilbert Falconer, who had come with his wife from Scotland after striking lucky in the national ballot. “It’s like winning the lottery for me,” said the ambulance service worker. “We just want to show our appreciation for what she has done for this country,” Falconer said of the queen. “She’s done such an amazing job through her reign.” Daniel Marmah, standing in line with his wife and two children, called the day a “historic event”. He said he admired the queen because she did “a really great job for all of the world”. Former Prime Minister John Major, one of 14 prime ministers during the queen’s reign, said her stoicism had helped steer the country. “The queen has represented our better selves for over 70 years,” he told the BBC. The jubilee is being commemorated with a four-day holiday weekend. Neighbourhood organisations and individuals are expected to hold thousands of street parties around the country, repeating a tradition that began with the queen’s coronation in 1953. In a written message, the queen thanked people in Britain and across the Commonwealth involved in organising the celebrations, which are, for many, the first opportunity for a big ‘do’ since the start of the pandemic. “I know that many happy memories will be created at these festive occasions,” Elizabeth said. Congratulations arrived from world leaders including US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron called the queen “the golden thread that binds our two countries” and one of “very few constants” on the international stage. His office said the queen, who loves horses, would receive one of Macron’s prize thoroughbred horses as a gift. Queen Elizabeth’s style? Like a schoolteacher, she ‘never shocks’ The Queen’s grandson Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan travelled from their home in California to join the jubilee celebrations. They were absent from the palace balcony, though, with only working royals and their children present to watch a ‘fly-past’ by Royal Air Force planes. Also absent was the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, 62. He stepped back from royal duties in 2019 over his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and settled a US lawsuit in February in which he was accused of sexual abuse. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said on Thursday that the prince had tested positive for Covid-19 and would miss a thanksgiving service being held for the queen on Friday at St Paul’s Cathedral. “After undertaking a routine test, the Duke (of York) has tested positive for Covid and with regret will no longer be attending tomorrow’s service,” a spokesman said. It was understood he has seen the Queen recently but not since he tested positive. Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press .