PAA

The patriotic bunting is ready, the golden carriage on standby, the boats freshly painted, the shops filled with royal souvenirs.

The normal ebb and flow of British life gives way in the next four days to a series of street parties, flotillas, outdoor concerts and finally the appearance of an elderly great-grandmother on her balcony to wave to her subjects.

Britain is marking Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne with a four-day holiday weekend of ceremony, symbolism and street parties.

The Queen will celebrate on Saturday at the Epsom Derby, a highlight of the horseracing calendar, and on Sunday she will lead a 1000-boat flotilla on the River Thames. Monday's festivities include a pop concert in front of Buckingham Palace with Paul McCartney and Elton John, and festivities climax on Tuesday with a religious service, a procession through the streets of London and the royal family's appearance on the palace balcony.

The pageantry is very grand and very British. But at the heart of the diamond jubilee celebration is a nearly universal sense of appreciation for the Queen, who acceded to the throne in 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI.

Elizabeth was a vibrant young woman of 25 when she became the head of state of a faltering post-war nation. At 86 she remains strong of heart and stout of spirit, refusing to let age slow her pace or dim her smile, which if anything has grown more welcoming over the years.

Winston Churchill was prime minister when she became Queen, and David Cameron wasn't born.

Alan Watson, a member of the House of Lords who has written a book about the Queen, said the jubilee is a joyous occasion for many Britons who see the Queen as a symbol of stability.

"These 60 years have been years of really dramatic change in the UK, the tectonic plates have moved," he said.

"The country has lost its empire and is no longer in the front rank of power, and I really think that change has been enormously eased by her and what she represents."

Elizabeth has weathered shaky times with her children, whose marriages have tended to break apart, and her popularity suffered after the 1997 death of Princess Diana, with some finding her response to the tragedy to be cold and out of touch with public sentiment.

But all evidence suggests the Queen's connection to her subjects has recovered from those blows.

For many, she is a living link to the challenges and triumphs of World War II, when she was a young princess who helped with the war effort, even learning how to drive and service heavy vehicles with the Auxiliary Transport Service.

Elizabeth is the oldest person to reign over Britain, and only Queen Victoria, who took the throne at an earlier age, had a longer reign.