Queen's flotilla idea taken from old painting

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: The Royal barge 'Spirit of Chartwell' passes crowds lining the river near the Houses of Parliament during the Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant on June 3, 2012 in London, England. For only the second time in its history the UK celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne. Thousands of well-wishers from around the world have flocked to London to witness the spectacle of the weekend?s celebrations. The Queen along with all members of the royal family will participate in a River Pageant with a flotilla of a 1,000 boats accompanying them down The Thames, the star studded free concert at Buckingham Palace, and a carriage procession and a service of thanksgiving at St Paul?s Cathedral. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Jeff J Mitchell

(CBS News) The big bash in London Sunday on the River Thames was the backdrop for day two of the Queen's 4-day Diamond Jubilee.

In a country famed for grand royal events, the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's reign posed a special problem: How to make it memorable.

It became a celebration of endurance in several ways.

It became as British a celebration as you could possibly have, about royalty, nostalgia, tradition, and terrible weather.

The big event of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend was a river pageant. Organizers said about a thousand boats would assemble, and they filled the river through London.

Nothing harks back to the days of glory when Britannia ruled the waves like a river full of boats, and with the Queen on a royal barge at the head of them. This being the 21st century, the royal barge is a converted river cruiser made fit for a Queen, but it's the thought that counts.

The thought was how to celebrate 60 years on the throne for a monarch who is only the second one to reach that milestone and who - the opinion polls say - is now more popular than ever.

The idea for the flotilla derived from an old painting of a previous royal pageant three centuries ago.

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The weather was different Sunday, but not only did the boats come -- rowing boats, historic boats, musical boats -- a crowd estimated at more than a million lined the riverbanks and bridges to see a once in several lifetimes event.

The question for organizers has been what do you give probably the richest woman in the world that's different and that she and everybody else will remember? This river pageant is the answer. They'll remember it a long time -- even if they try to forget the weather.

The point of these occasions is not just to celebrate now, but to provide images for future nostalgia. And there were plenty of those today.

This is a British Queen, who leads by example. She may be 86 years old, but she stood for hours with her family as the flotilla went slowly by and the weather got even worse.

This was a day to celebrate a woman who, like the country, has endured. And both have proved again that no matter what, they can still throw quite a party.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.