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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Queen gets warm Sunderland welcome
For a city that once boasted the biggest Cromwellian garrison in the north east, Sunderland gave the Queen a whole-hearted welcome when she arrived on Wearside in the royal train today.
Long forgotten were the days when royalist Newcastle and republican Sunderland feuded over the monarch.
At a cost of nearly £4m, the new centre replaces the Winter Gardens destroyed during a World War II bombing raid.
For Sunderland, it was a day of renewal. The local museum had been refurbished, the ornamental pond cleaned and in Mowbray Park, where hundreds waited to greet the Queen, a children's steel band beat out a medley of tunes from a brand new band stand.
Many had waited a couple of hours in blustery winds for the first royal walkabout of the day.
Toddlers with plastic flags hovered inside barriers under the watchful eye of a security man, while beyond the small park hundreds of other spectators crowded the walkways of the civic centre car park.
The Queen was dressed in a turquoise overcoat, the Duke in a dark suit.
Among the first people she spoke to were Frank and Doris Moon, who last year celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.
Frank, who is 83, rose swiftly to his feet, proudly bearing his campaign medals including one for Dunkirk.
The Duke remarked: "You survived it all anyway."
Doris Moon said: "It's been a wonderful day. The Queen does a great job"
And what of the trials and tribulations of the Royal Family in recent years?
"She's a mum - and we all know that can bring problems," said Doris. "But she has to deal with it all in the public spotlight."
A few yards along, the Queen spoke to Lillian Coulson, who celebrated her 100th birthday in January.
Lillian presented her with a bouquet, and by now the royal arms were beginning to fill with flowers.
The park was lined with dozens of elderly people or children in wheelchairs such as Billy-Jo Cassidy, aged 10, and Lynne Mearns, aged 14, both from Barbara Priestman School in Sunderland.
"Ten years ago, when the Queen last came to Sunderland, my brother was in the guard of honour," said Lynne proudly. "And my mum's been to a royal garden party!"
Out on the bandstand, her fellow disabled pupils were playing their hearts out on the bandstand.
Sunderland lies in a region which has repeatedly suffered more economic blows than almost any other in the UK.
Once the home of more than 65 shipyards, the last one closed down in 1988 after a community battle to save it.
The microchip revolution blew hot, then cold in the 90s. But on Tuesday the city was putting on its best face.
After her walkabout, the Queen took a trip on the Tyne and Wear Metro to open formally the £97m extension from Gateshead to Sunderland.
Next in a busy day of openings was the official inauguration of the Millennium Bridge.
The link, which arches across the Tyne to Newcastle from Gateshead in the shape of a ship's prow, is the latest pride of Tyneside.
Before the Queen arrived, the crowds lining either bank of the river were entertained by displays by Sea Cadets, Red Seal Rescue and Royal Marine Reserves who abseiled down from a Sea King helicopter.
Two parties of children - one from Gateshead, the other from Newcastle - converged in the middle of the bridge in a ceremony called Meeting in the Middle.
As the Queen arrived from the Gateshead side and Prince Phillip from the Newcastle side, the national anthem was sung by the Felling Male Voice Choir.
The setting couldn't have been more spectacular. On the south side of the Tyne stood the historic Baltic Flour Mill, soon to open as a contemporary arts centre; alongside it, rising new above the river is the exciting Gateshead Music Centre.
Still in shell form - it opens next year - its walkways were crowded with building workers in yellow hard hats and tunics while below, alongside the river, the Queen unveiled the plaque marking the official opening the bridge.
On the quayside, on the Newcastle side, thousands of office workers strained for a view of the ceremony.
Four boisterous female spectators has slipped out of their law company offices to join the throng.
Claire Andrews, smiling as she waved her plastic flag, said: "I just think she's done a great job. They've had their problems in the Royal Family, but she's been terrific."
Her friends, Julie Agnew, Josephine Marsh and Louise Waugh, all agreed. A children's choir rang out over the loud speakers strung along the quayside.
David Cowie stood out in the crowd. He would have stood out in most crowds with his flag draped across his shoulders and a Union Jack attached to a hat festooned in dozens of metal badges.
"The Queen and her family? I think she's managed superbly. It's not easy. I know. I've been married 40 years myself!" he said.
In a city bursting with new development, the people were glad to welcome the symbol of a long enduring institution.
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