A GROUP of Essex dignitaries on a VIP barge will be at the heart of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee River Pageant as a 1,000-strong flotilla sails down the River Thames.
The 106-year-old boat will be moored at the side of the river, giving Essex's great and the good front row seats for the parade.
Essex County Council's top brass – leader Peter Martin, deputy David Finch, chairman Kay Twitchen and vice chairman Norman Hume – will be joined by mayors and chairmen from the various Essex boroughs and districts.
"I am very excited as I think it will be a wonderful day," said Chelmsford's new mayor, Cllr Chris Kingsley, who takes over on Wednesday, May 23, in time for the June 3 parade.
"I am a supporter of the royalty and the monarchy and I think the Queen has done a fantastic job.
"I think it will be an extremely pleasant day and I am looking forward to it.
"I enjoy sailing and cruising and just returned from a sailing trip to France.
"We are not part of the procession, which is good as we will see everything go past.
"If we were in the procession we would only see the boat in front and behind us."
The wooden barge is called Hydrogen and is usually moored at Hythe Quay in Maldon.
It is owned by Topsail Charters Ltd and will be decked with bunting and flying its red ochre sails.
It will carry 50 guests, including Braintree District Council's new chairman Cllr Lynette Flint and Maldon's new chairman Cllr David Williams.
"I have been on the Hydrogen a few times and it's an excellent boat," said Cllr Williams.
"I have also been on the boat the Queen will be sailing on – the Spirit of Chartwell.
"I turned 70 last year and my wife got me ten surprise experiences as a present and one of them was a two-night stay on the Spirit of Chartwell.
"It's a fantastic boat and I'm sure the Queen will have a great time.
"The Hydrogen is too big to go under London Bridge because of its sails, so we will be moored between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
"The Queen will get off her boat and will watch the rest go by, so she will have a similar view to us.
"It's a great honour to be going, particularly as it's a Maldon boat."
Other dignitaries who will be present will include Ingatestone peer Lord Petre of Ingatestone who, as lord-lieutenant, is the Queen's representative in Essex.
The 96ft-long barge, which used to carry oil, tar and coal, will be moored off Wapping on the north bank of the Thames on June 3, in an area known as the Pool of London.
It will form part of a so-called Avenue of Sail, a colonnade of stationary tall ships which will flank the Queen's barge as it heads east towards its destination, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
The guests are expected to access the barge using water taxis, small boats which can be hired for a fee.
A county council spokesman said: "It is important to participate in the celebrations because of the respect and affection we all have for the Queen and her Diamond Jubilee is an extraordinary milestone for her and the nation."