The Queen has symbolically led the lighting of the principal Platinum Jubilee beacon in a spectacular end to the first day of historic national commemorations celebrating her 70-year-reign.
The monarch’s late-night appearance at Windsor Castle rounded off the start to joyful festivities which saw the Queen take to the Buckingham Palace balcony surrounded by her family.
But it was also announced the head of state would miss a National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Friday after experiencing “discomfort” during Thursday’s events.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Cambridge was at Buckingham Palace on Thursday night to play his part in the dual ceremony, lighting another beacon in London.
The principal beacon is the 69ft tall Tree of Trees sculpture, featuring 350 British-grown trees, which towers over the palace.
Created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the living creation reflects the planting of more than a million jubilee trees as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) initiative to mark 70 years of the monarch’s reign, and is illuminated with 3,500 festoon lights.
The Buckingham Palace and Windsor beacons were two of more than 2,000 around the UK and the Commonwealth, including the Tower of London, Windsor Great Park, Hillsborough Castle, the Queen’s estates of Sandringham and Balmoral, and on top of the UK’s four highest peaks.
Beacons were lit at towns and cities across Northern Ireland including at Titanic Belfast and St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry, while in Scotland, a beacon was lit at Edinburgh Castle as a piper played a tune written for the occasion.
Earlier in the day cheeky Prince Louis stole the show on the palace’s famous frontage as he covered his ears with his hands and let out a howl of excitement as a flypast roared overhead.
The four-year-old stood next to the Queen, known affectionately as “Gan Gan” to the Cambridge children, as she leaned down to talk to her great-grandson, pointing out things of interest
Thousands of well-wishers packed on to The Mall in the June sunshine, erupting in cheers for the nation’s longest reigning monarch, with the smiling Queen delighted at the patriotic scenes.
Hours later, the 96-year-old sovereign emerged to a fanfare of trumpeters at her Berkshire home.
In the special dual ceremony with her grandson the Duke of Cambridge, who was 22 miles away at the palace, the Queen touched the Commonwealth of Nations Globe to trigger the lighting of the principal beacon outside her London home.
Lights chased along the Quadrangle towards Windsor’s famous Round Tower, before travelling up the 21-metre living Tree of Trees, illuminating the sculpture which towered above the palace.
The beacon formed the focal point for a chain of more than 3,500 flaming tributes, which criss-crossed the nation and the Commonwealth in the Queen’s honour.
The Queen earlier made two appearances on the palace balcony.
She joined her cousin the Duke of Kent to take a salute of her soldiers returning from Trooping the Colour, after the Prince of Wales deputised for her on the parade ground.
Then she re-emerged, wearing sunglasses, to watch the six-minute flypast of more than 70 aircraft, including 15 RAF Typhoons in the formation of the number 70.
Dressed in a dusky dove blue Angela Kelly coat which she wore for her official Jubilee portrait, and matching hat, the Queen, who has mobility issues, was holding a walking stick and wearing the Guards’ Badge on her coat.
Eighteen royals including the head of state stepped out for the flypast, with Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Louis flanking the monarch.
The crowds had been treated to the sight of the Cambridge youngsters waving in their first carriage procession, joined by proud parent Kate and their step-grandmother Camilla.
It is understood the Queen is missing Friday’s thanksgiving service after she experienced episodic mobility issues during Thursday’s celebrations.
In a statement, Buckingham Palace said the Queen “greatly enjoyed” her birthday parade and flypast in London but “did experience some discomfort”.
The statement said: “Taking into account the journey and activity required to participate in tomorrow’s National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, Her Majesty, with great reluctance, has concluded that she will not attend.”
It is understood the decision was considered regrettable but sensible due to the length of the journey and time involved and the physical demands the service would require.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were among the guests who watched Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards from inside the Duke of Wellington’s former office, overlooking the parade ground.
They stayed out of the limelight and joined more than 30 royals including Camilla and Kate and the Queen’s extended family including all of her grandchildren.
But there was no place for the Sussexes, who caused a crisis by quitting as senior royals, or the Queen’s disgraced second son the Duke of York on the palace balcony.
The Queen decided to limit it to working members of the family, her Cambridge great-grandchildren and two youngest grandchildren.
As the four days of celebrations continue, Andrew is to also miss Friday’s service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s after catching Covid.
On the balcony with the Queen were: the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra, the Duke of Kent, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Princess Royal, Charles and Camilla, the Cambridges, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and their children Viscount Severn and Lady Louise Windsor.