Queen begins her Diamond Jubilee tour

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge watch a fashion show at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. Photo / AP
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge watch a fashion show at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. Photo / AP

Her reign began with a round-the-world, ocean-going Coronation tour stretching all the way to Australia where she attended a reunion of Boer War veterans.

Six decades on, the longest-lived Monarch in British history started her Diamond Jubilee tour yesterday, courtesy of the 10:15 train from St Pancras to Leicester.

There she was greeted by a model in a see-through dress and a group of young Bollywood dancers, some of whom were not born until the 21st Century.

Trying to reflect the full span of the Queen's reign and of those who have lived within it is the monumental challenge of this Jubilee. So she had invited a more recent royal recruit along to join her and Prince Philip for Day One.

And for the Duchess of Cambridge - who told one onlooker that she is missing her Falklands-based Prince 'terribly' - here was a perfect tutorial from the master.

Where better to start this nationwide, four-month tour than a city which, perhaps more than any other, represents the demographic change which Britain has experienced through the Queen's reign? They don't come much more multicultural than Leicester where the white and non-white populations are roughly the same.

So the greeting party consisted of Bollywood dancers, Chinese umbrella dancers, a gospel choir and two columns of blazered old soldiers from the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards. And they were all lined up in the square between a medieval gateway and the shiny façade of De Montfort University.

Two things were apparent from the start and would be recurring themes throughout the day. First, the crowds were not just much larger but also much younger than the usual turnout for a chilly royal awayday, with a couple of thousand students who had been waiting since dawn.

Second, though everyone was excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge in her teal LK Bennett dress, they had really turned out for the lady in the cerise cashmere coat and hat.

The loudest cheers - downright screams at times - were for the Queen. There was also plenty of appreciative applause for the Duke of Edinburgh, tinged with mild concern that he had decided to venture out minus his overcoat.

'You just want to be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee,' explained Sam Brown, 19, an English literature student from Birmingham and part of a group who had camped out all night to be sure of a good spot. That might happen in the Mall from time to time. It is not a regular occurrence on the Leicester ring road.

'She's important because she is Britain,' said Rachel Kings, 19, who is studying creative writing. The all-nighters were rewarded with words from both royal ladies.

'You look a bit squished,' said the Queen anxiously, observing the wall of bodies pressing in from behind. Squished or not, they were thrilled. Leicester is famous for its hosiery and shoes and the university had laid on a fashion show to parade some of the talent at its 900-strong School of Fashion.

First up was the work of graduate Shivani Chavda, including a startling cream, orange, blue, purple and green column dress made of silk georgette. It was so thin that the audience in the packed marquee were also treated to a glimpse of the model's underwear.

The Queen took it all in her stride, sharing several observations with the Duchess who was at her side. It has gone down in history that the former Kate Middleton first caught the eye of Prince William wearing something similar at that St Andrew's University fashion gala.

'I have been to a fashion show before,' she joked to her escort, Lord Alli, Chancellor of De Montfort University. 'I know,' replied the Labour peer. 'I saw it on the telly this morning.'

Just as she did for afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason last week, the 30-year-old Duchess sported an above-the-knee hemline somewhat shorter than the Queen's. And her ensemble - rounded off with a little black pill box from the royal hatters, Lock & Co - won unanimous approval from De Montfort's trainee fashionistas.

The royal party moved on to inspect other parts of the university - just as the fashion show was about to abandon dresses altogether in favour of a display of underwear.

De Montfort has 120 footwear design students, all of whom had been offered the chance to design a pair of shoes for the Duchess. A shortlist of six had been sent to St James's Palace for her perusal and all were on display, next to their quivering creators.

Given what happens to sales of anything worn by the Duchess, their nerves were understandable. The Duchess congratulated all of them but her final choice was the blue suede stilettos with lace appliqué designed by near-speechless Becka Hunt, 20, from Peterborough.

At Leicester's 14th Century Cathedral, the Queen attended a service led by the Anglican clergy and involving all the main faiths.

Outside, dhol drummers were competing with a brass band competing with a Zimbabwean women's choir - and all of them performing beneath a full peal of bells.

While the royal party attended a civic lunch of goat cheese croquettes and local lamb for 162 guests - including several couples celebrating their Diamond wedding anniversaries - the crowds were building in Leicester's city centre.

Tens of thousands lined the pedestrian precincts around the clock tower where a royal dais had been erected next to a bunting-festooned TK Maxx. The State Bentley came to a halt outside McDonald's.

Shrieking broke out in all directions as the Queen walked down the road to watch a specially-commissioned display of Indian dancing called Sixty Colours.

Before the royal departure, there was another walkabout among the crowds, a dozen deep in places. 'Cool hat,' the Duchess told a delighted Monty Lawrance, five, playfully shaking one of the bells on his red, white and blue jester's hat.

'How's William?' asked Laura Murphy, 30, a physiotherapist who had taken the day off work to stand outside for six hours. 'I'm missing him terribly,' the Duchess replied.
The Duke, currently flying his search and rescue helicopter in the Falklands, can rest assured that his young wife was a very creditable addition to the royal ranks on this important day.

The Duke of Edinburgh was more than happy to take the jump seat in the back of the State Bentley - a spot usually reserved for an equerry or bodyguard - to allow the Duchess to sit next to the Queen.

Yesterday will certainly have reassured Palace officials - if they needed any assurance - that this Jubilee is going to be colossal. Here was the template for scenes which will unfold all over the country. As word spreads and the weather improves, things can only get bigger.

It should also be recorded, in the interests of balance, that the anti-monarchy group, Republic, were staging a demonstration as the Queen arrived in Leicester. Their protest attracted five people. By late morning, their numbers had swollen to six.

- THE DAILY MAIL

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