Flags in the national colors bearing the portrait of the 96-year-old monarch and picnic baskets: even before the traditional military parade of the Salute to the Colors begins, launching four days of festivities, the spectators have taken up residence under a radiant sun along the barriers along the Mall, a majestic tree-lined artery overlooking the palace from where the sovereign will appear on the balcony.

Coming with his wife and three children, Paul Fletcher, 55, absolutely did not want to miss this event, which will see the troops marching with fanfare to mark the official birthday of Elizabeth II, a tradition more than 260 years old.

“It will probably be the only time, or one of the only times, that the queen will still be able to do it,” he told AFP. 70 years on the throne, “it’s unheard of and I don’t think it will happen again,” adds the 50-year-old, who works for the British public health service (NHS).

“I don’t think we’re going to see anything, but just a little glimpse, that would be good,” smiles his wife Diane, 52, trying to get as close to the barriers as possible.

This platinum jubilee is unheard of in the UK. Ascended to the throne at the age of 25 on the death of her father, George VI, on February 6, 1952, Elizabeth II is the first in the millennial history of this monarchy to display such a long reign.

It is unlikely that his successors will beat his record: Charles, the crown prince is 73 years old, his son William will soon be 40 years old.

“This may be the last time we see Her Majesty participate in a public event, we want to show our appreciation,” Gilbert Falconer, 65, from Scotland, told AFP. “She will be hard to replace.”

The American Kimber Beasley, 49, manager, came expressly from Colorado to taste the festivities, which she anticipates “fantastic”. “It’s part of history. How many times can you see that? How many times has a monarch reigned for 70 years?”

Such longevity is “historic for the country”, abounds Daniel Marmah, 33, as he waits in a long line with his wife and two young children, in chic clothes, to be able to access the bleachers, paying , giving an unobstructed view of the parade. And the queen has “really done a great job”.

A little disappointed that Elizabeth is not reviewing the troops – a task left to Prince Charles due to his mobility issues, David Hare is stamping his feet ahead of his two scheduled balcony appearances.

I came “to celebrate with my queen”, confides this very patriotic pruner of 61 years, a Union Jack jacket on the shoulders. “I’ve been to all the (royal) weddings, sometimes staying overnight,” he explains.

But it is also a welcome break and “simply nice to be able to celebrate for the next four days” in these difficult times which have been marked by “the Covid and this very sad war in Ukraine”.

Symbol of “stability” and “reliability”, the queen is “a fine example for America, for the world”, underlines Kimber Beasley.