New Year's Day parade ushers in London's 'big year'

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Media captionThe BBC's James Pearce: "There really is a great buzz around the city today"

London's New Year's Day parade has launched a "thrilling" year that will see both the Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrated in the city, organisers said.

The parade started at 11:45 GMT with over 500,000 spectators estimated to have lined the 2.2 mile route.

Entertainer Russell Grant and his Strictly Come Dancing partner Flavia Cacace were headline acts.

More than 8,000 people performed, including more than 1,000 cheerleaders.

Some 17 marching bands from the US were among those in the procession providing music.

Image caption Marching bands and cheerleaders performed at Piccadilly Circus

'Absolutely delighted'

The Jacksonville State University Marching Southerners, from Alabama, kicked the procession off, followed swiftly by All The Queen's Horses.

Dan Kirkby, communications director of London's New Year's Day Parade, said he was "absolutely delighted" with the turnout for the start of a "legendary" year from London.

He said: "The 26th New Year's Day Parade here in London is a wonderful platform for a fantastic city."

The Queen, who will become only the second British sovereign to reign for 60 years when she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee later this year, had a New Year's message printed in the free guide given to spectators.

In it she conveyed her "sincere thanks" to all the performers.

Nasser Volant was commissioned to make and fly dozens of kites along the route.

Image caption The event marked the start of a year which includes the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics

He is the cousin of Khaled Hosseini, who wrote the novel The Kite Runner which was adapted for the screen.

His colourful display incorporated more than 20 giant birds of prey and 60 kites carrying the official logo of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Among those making their debut in the parade were the London Borough of Croydon and a scooter fan club from Wanstead.

Martin Heath of Foresters Scooter Club, which was formed in 1957, said there was particular interest in having his group's vintage scooters in the parade this year to evoke the spirit of the start of the Queen's reign.

The London Borough of Croydon's entry was diamond-themed to reflect both Her Majesty's anniversary and the borough's geographical shape.

'Fantastic' event

Local arts group for people with learning disabilities, Club Soda, represented the area.

Rebecca Brigden, 38, a civil servant from Sutton in London, said the event was "fantastic".

She added: "It's the first time we have ever been and the children really like the cheer leading so they wanted to see it done properly."

The route took in Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, Lower Regent Street, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Parliament Street.

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