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A right royal roller coaster

Hold on tight as Penny Cottee speeds you through the best events to celebrate 50 years of Queen Elizabeth II

It hasn't happened in Britain since 1887. And there have been only four such occasions in the history of the nation. This year, Queen Elizabeth II joins Queen Victoria, Edward III, Henry III and George III in a rather exclusive grouping: they are the only British monarchs to celebrate 50 years on the throne. The forthcoming Golden Jubilee is a rare event and plans for a summer of celebration are well under way. The Golden Jubilee has six themes: celebration, giving thanks, service, community involvement, looking forward as well as back and Commonwealth. The aim is to involve the whole nation.

"It is as much for young people in our communities as for the older generation," explains Jane Groom, head of communications for the Golden Jubilee Office at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the body co-ordinating and promoting the projects. "Celebrating the achievements of children in the UK and the Commonwealth and looking ahead to the contribution young people make to our society, are important aspects."

The main focus of the celebrations will be the long weekend of June 1-4 (where Monday 3 is an extra Bank Holiday, and Tuesday 4 is the re-scheduled late May Bank Holiday). This weekend will offer young people plenty of flag-waving opportunities in London, with a firework display, royal processions, concerts in Buckingham Palace, a thanksgiving service in St Paul's cathedral, a grand carnival pageant and the lighting by The Queen of the National Beacon, the first in a symbolic chain stretching across the UK and the Commonwealth.

Thousands of children outside the capital will also have a chance to indulge in some royal watching as Her Majesty will be visiting each region, from Cornwall to Scotland, between now and August. As you might expect, royal venues will be running special events to mark the occasion. The Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace has reopened with an exhibition of 450 works of art displaying the individual tastes of the monarchs who have shaped the great royal collections through the centuries. The exhibition will run until January, with a schools programme from October. At the Tower of London, the Royal Armouries museum is bringing a Golden Jubilee theme to its KS1 and KS2 educational programmes. "Youngsters will be encouraged to compare the two Queen Elizabeths and their reigns, try on a replica dress worn by Princess Elizabeth in 1546 and handle the superbly-restored replica Crown Jewels," says Irene Davies, education service manager. At three royal palaces in Scotland and England, stamp enthusiasts can view rarely seen and priceless items from The Queen's personal archive, as the Royal Philatelic Collection tours the country during the summer.

Schools will also be invited to join in a special celebration of singing. The National Foundation for Youth Music has commissioned a song for the Golden Jubilee, called "Drop in the Ocean" by composer and producer Tolga Kashif. As part of the foundation's programme to encourage young people to sing, it will be distributed to schools and music projects nationwide. "We're hoping youngsters all over the country will sing it for The Queen when she visits," says Julia Parlett, head of marketing communications.

For youngsters more at home with writing than singing, the National Poetry Competition offers the chance to become part of history. Each entry will be preserved for posterity in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle and winners will meet The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Events are being planned in towns and cities across the country - from a record-breaking picnic attempt in the south of England, to the Spirit of Friendship activities surrounding the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The best way for schools to find out what's happening (and submit their own events for inclusion) is to visit the Golden Jubilee official website, which is packed with Jubliee facts, related web links and a celebration toolkit to help plan events. "We're compiling a huge calendar of celebrations which will be searchable by theme and area. It will also help schools plan what to visit and how to participate," explains Jane Groom.

Golden Jubilee Office www.goldenjubilee.gov.uk National Foundation for Youth Music Tel: 020 7902 1060 www.youthmusic.org.uk Royal Armouries Museum Tel: 020 7488 5658Spirit of Friendship, Commonwealth InstituteTel: 020 7603 4535

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