THE Royal Navy kicked off the nation’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in emphatic style yesterday.
All eyes were on Portsmouth as HMS Diamond fired a deafening 21-gun salute in tribute to the Queen.
Smoke filled the air as the new Type 45 destroyer blasted her saluting guns in the approaches of Portsmouth Harbour.
Four navy helicopters buzzed over the ship in a diamond formation and the RAF also got in on the act with two Typhoon jets soaring through the clouds with a huge roar.
Just as the air had cleared from Diamond’s guns, Fort Blockhouse in Gosport replied with its own 21-gun salute – stunning crowds which had packed the Round Tower, Hot Walls and Southsea seafront.
The News was on board the warship as she sailed past hundreds of jubilant spectators, many of whom were decked out in red, white and blue and waving Union flags.
The patriotic sights and sounds from the shore caught many of Diamond’s 190 sailors by surprise, including her captain, Commander Ian Clarke.
He said: ‘It’s a great honour to start the nation’s celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend.
‘We hadn’t realised how many people would be there across Southsea seafront, the Round Tower and equally on the Gosport side.
‘It was quite an emotional moment for us.’
Also beaming with pride was Able Seaman Holly Cole, 19, from Portchester who joined the ship last year.
She said: ‘We didn’t expect such a massive turnout. It was a proud moment, a really good feeling.
‘My heart was in my throat a bit. It was really nice – it was perfect.’
Leading Seaman Joe Roberts, 26, was one of the Diamond’s four gunners involved in the salute.
He said: ‘It was the first time I’ve fired the saluting gun and it was a pretty good occasion for it.
‘The bangs were really loud and I got quite a lot of smoke in my face, but it was great fun.
‘It was an honour to kick off the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.’
Diamond was escorted in by patrol ships HMS Raider and HMS Blazer.
To celebrate the destroyer’s affiliation with the RNLI, the navy’s vessels were led in by RNLI lifeboat Alfred Albert Williams – named after former sailor Albert Williams of Gosport who served in the navy from 1928 until 1956.
As the ships approached the Round Tower, a local tug boat fired its water cannon into the air in an eye-catching tribute of its own.
Then came the moment for Diamond’s sailors to remove their caps and give a hearty three cheers for the Queen.
And it appeared patriotism took over as an order came over the tannoy for a second round of cheers – this time given with even more gumption than the first.
Hundreds of people turned out to witness the historic spectacle.
Brian Pepall, 74, and his wife Eileen, 69, from Havant were among the hordes of supporters who packed the Round Tower.
‘It’s all been very exciting. Something like this doesn’t happen every day,’ said Brian.
Peter Stewart, 60, of Southsea, said: ‘It was seriously impressive and well-timed. What makes it even more impressive is the amount of people who have turned out to show their support. This weekend is all about showing our pride for the Royal Family and showing that we’re proud to be British.’
Retired sailor Clive Brown said: ‘It’s all brilliant stuff, there’s nothing else quite like it.
‘I can’t wait to see the rest of the Jubilee celebrations this coming weekend.’
And like the many hundreds of events planned this weekend, Diamond hosted a ‘street party’ of her own at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday afternoon.
Sailors and guests gathered on the flight deck to indulge in a new rum-based Jubilee cocktail designed for the navy by the prestigious Dukes Hotel in London, tucked into a buffet and a HMS Diamond Jubilee cake.
The celebrations came just before HMS Diamond sets off on her maiden deployment to the Gulf on June 12.
Able Seaman Sharlotte Pape, 21, said: ‘We’re really busy at the moment getting ready for our first deployment, so this has been a great thing to do before we go.’