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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 12:22 GMT
Elizabeth II's gilt trip
The coach in which the Queen rode to her coronation in 1953, and her silver jubilee in 1977
Will the cheering crowds match those of 1977?
The Queen's golden jubilee has begun, but in a very different climate from her silver jubilee in 1977. BBC News Online's Megan Lane looks at how the monarch intends to mark her 50th year.

A golden jubilee is a rare event for the monarchy. Just a handful of earlier rulers have made the 50-year mark, the most recent being Queen Victoria more than 110 years ago.

Golden years
Henry III in 1266
Edward III in 1327
George III in 1810
Victoria in 1887
So how best to mark Queen Elizabeth II's years on the throne in an age much changed from when she was crowned?

In 1977 the nation hit the streets to celebrate her silver jubilee, dragging their bunting-bedecked kitchen tables out for spontaneous street parties complete with Union Jack cakes and jelly and ice cream.

Street party 1977
Such support for the royals has not been repeated
Five million people in London cheered her as she made her way by golden coach to a celebration in St Paul's Cathedral and half-a-billion TV viewers tuned in worldwide. It was an opportunity to "look back over 25 glorious years", as the BBC put it then.

A quarter of a century on, the Queen's world is a very different place.

Her own family has been rocked by affairs, divorce and rumours of rifts. Her once-unquestioning subjects voice awkward opinions that the Windsors are out-of-touch, a drain on the public purse. Some even dare breathe the word "republic".

What we think of the Queen
Hard-working: 71%
Good ambassador for UK: 81%
Should abdicate this year: 26%
In touch with everyday life: 29%
Observer poll
Thus the royals are reluctant to push their luck, for to plan a national extravaganza which no-one wants to attend (other than curious American tourists) would ram the point home all too hard.

The BBC's royal correspondent Jennie Bond says the palace wants festivities to be individual to each community. Although hoping that the street parties of 1977 will be recreated, they do recognise that the public mood is not the same.

"They are anxious not to repeat the Dome syndrome and talk up a party that turns out to be a flop."

Jubilee coins
Celebration coins and stamps have been issued

Small lottery grants are available for community projects, and the queen has nominated six charities for those who wish to mark the jubilee with a donation.

The tone has been set by the Queen herself, who is said to want "no over-lavish public expenditure" to mark the occasion.

Coronation Day
Much has changed since she took the throne
And the palace has had to reframe the year as a two-way celebration, in which the Queen will visit different parts of the kingdom to thank her people in return.

As well as spending three months travelling around the UK, she and Prince Philip will tour the Commonwealth countries of Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Let the games begin

Among the more sensational events planned is the equestrian extravaganza, All the Queen's Horses, at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Between 16 to 18 May, more than 1,000 horses and 200 actors will trace Elizabeth II's reign through her love of horses and will recreate the 1953 Coronation procession.

The Queen holds the futuristic Commonwealth Games baton
The games include a 50-day jubilee relay
The 2002 Commonwealth Games - set to be the largest multi-sport event held in the UK - are being touted as the centrepiece of the jubilee celebrations. The Queen will open the games in Manchester on 25 July, and attend the closing ceremony 10 days later.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which runs from August 2 to 24, is this year being staged in her honour.

And perhaps the best jubilee news for many will be the extra bank holiday on Monday 3 June and the late May bank holiday moving to 4 June to allow four days of celebrations.

Extra bank holiday

The long weekend, timed to mark the Queen's coronation day half-a-century ago, will involve:

• Pop and classical concerts at Buckingham Palace with tickets allocated by ballot

• Beacons and bonfires lit across the UK

• A service of thanksgiving at St Paul's

• A pageant celebrating service and community involvement in The Mall

This also happens to coincide with the start of England's World Cup bid - the team plays Sweden on 2 June and Argentina on the 7th. This could detract from the royal celebrations, or, perhaps, bolster national pride, among some of the Queen's subjects at least.

Work is underway on permanent mementos of her 50 years in the job, such as a gallery at Buckingham Palace to showcase treasures from her vast collection; Jubilee gardens in towns and villages throughout the UK; a footbridge across the Thames (this time a disused Victorian-era walkway by the Cannon St railway bridge); and the Jubilee Footpath, which will loop north and south past London's historic sites.

So even if the partying crowds don't match those of 1977, at least the Queen can rest easy that these attractions will prove popular. For even those Britons with little time for the monarchy love rambling and gallery-going.

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