Cheering crowds, red-jacketed bandsmen in bearskin hats and ceremonial gunfire saluted Queen Elizabeth II on her 80th birthday Friday, but clouds denied the monarch her wish for sunshine.
Wearing a cerise coat and matching feathered hat, the queen appeared promptly after noon through the Henry VIII gate at Windsor Castle.
Prince Philip, her husband of 58 years, briefly trailed behind but then moved off to greet other sections of the crowd.
Friday's events included a 21-gun salute at Windsor, a 41-gun salute at Hyde Park in London and a formal dinner at Kew Palace. But for monarchists and celebrity spotters, the day's big event was the chance to greet the queen outside the imposing castle founded by William the Conqueror.
Crowds began building on the street hours before, and children in blue school blazers waved white flags with the red cross of St. George, the patron saint of England.
The queen smiled broadly as she accepted one bouquet after another handed across the barricades during her 45-minute promenade.
"She's always the same. She never changes, does she?" marveled John Tyler, 69, a retired military man who came with his wife Iris. "She's got older, but she's always been a person of the people. She's the queen of the people. Try and find another in the world like her. You won't, will you?"
"She has never been involved in a scandal, she has carried out her duties superbly, we love her to bits and hope that she reigns for at least another 20 years," said Colin Edwards, 65, of Wales, who said he had been a bystander at 113 royal events since 1982.
"She's fantastic," said Mary Wintle, 71, who also came from Wales to cheer the monarch.
"Did you see Margaret Thatcher yesterday?" Wintle asked.
Thatcher hails royal inspiration
Former Prime Minister Thatcher, in a birthday tribute on ITV News on Thursday, said the queen had been an inspiration.
"Her guidance and advice are always most acute, and as prime minister I was privileged to benefit from both enormously," said Thatcher, also 80, who led the government from 1979-1990.
On a visit to the British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday, the queen was asked what she wanted for her birthday.
"A nice sunshiny day — that would be nice," she said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Cabinet sent the queen a tea set made by Spode, the distinguished British potter.
The queen has received more than 20,000 cards and 17,000 e-mails wishing her a happy birthday, Buckingham Palace said.
"I have been very touched by what you have written and would like to express my gratitude to you all for making this day such a special one for me," the queen said in a message released Friday.
The birthday has revived speculation about whether the monarch would ever contemplate retiring and handing the throne to her heir, Prince Charles. But Countess Mountbatten, a close friend of the queen, said that is unlikely.
"She regards the job as a job for life," the countess told BBC radio.
A giant Royal Standard flag few over Windsor Castle to herald the day.
A Royal Standard is flown when the queen is in residence in one of the official palaces, but the one used Friday was an especially large banner, 38 feet long and 19 feet wide.