LONDON - A team of "babysitters" in orange jackets pumped helium into a giant "Trump Baby" balloon on Friday and let it soar above Westminster Abbey, kicking off a day of large, peaceful, often mocking protests against President Donald Trump's visit here.
Although there were rallies across Britain, the largest was in central London. The protesters came to march for a dozen different reasons and as many causes. In the slowly moving throng, there were "drag queens against Trump," "families against Trump," "trumpeteers against Trump" - you name it.
Police did not give an official estimate of the crowd size. Organizers claimed more than 100,000 were on the streets.
The demonstrators looked like London: urbane and liberal, they brought their kids and dogs along. A lot of their signs were handmade and droll.
In interviews, some said they thought Trump a bully. Others described him as a misogynist or sexual aggressor. There were a lot of signs with the word "grab" this or that.
The marchers said they worried about climate change, the European Union, immigrants, Palestine, gay rights, civility and rise of right-wing populism. The word "fascist" was used. A lot of them mentioned Trump's policy of separating children from their parents when caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, an enforcement tool now put back in the box.
They were a diverse assemblage - not dominated by activists. There was a handmade vibe.
Although the U.S. Embassy in London warned Americans to "keep a low profile" during the demonstrations, for fear they could be attacked, the crowds were filled with American tourists and U.S. citizens living abroad.
Like Trump, the personal and political combined.
"I think that when you disrespect, you are going to be disrespected," said Paul Phillips, 54, a tourist visiting from Buffalo, who watched the Trump Baby balloon - depicting the president as an angry baby wearing a diaper and clutching a cellphone - go aloft.
The main afternoon march started at Portland Place near the BBC in central London, and then snaked past Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus before ending at Trafalgar Square, which was filled to capacity.
The protesters' outrage was stoked by an explosive interview that Trump gave to the Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, in which he dismissed as deeply flawed Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to exit the European Union - and said her strategy of aligning rules and regulations for traded goods between Britain and the E.U. would effectively "kill" any chance of a great trade deal with the United States.
Humor is an essential part of any British protest, and it was on full display, from the baby blimp to the many placards, like the one that said "Special relationship? I want a divorce" or "Overcomb Brexit."
Some of the placards were crude and R-Rated, but protesters insisted that the president was crude and R-Rated and so it was okay. One group marched with a large golden middle finger; several women carried signs referencing Trump's famous Access Hollywood audio recording.
You could tell some of the marchers tried hard. Other placards read: "So Bad Even Introverts Are Here" and "Super Callous Fragile Ego Trump, You Are Atrocious" and "God save the Queen from the Rotten Tangerine."
And there were ones with a distinct British feel, such as, "Yankee Go Home and Take Boris With You."
In the interview with The Sun newspaper, Trump grumbled about the protests. "I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London," he told the paper. "I used to love London as a city. I haven't been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?"
This was welcome news for the organizers of the blimp.
"It's worked spectacularly well. We've basically run him out of London. He's got the message: He's not welcome here," said Leo Murray, the brains behind the blimp project.
Murray, who was wearing red overalls that said "Trump Babysitter" on the back, said that he and his mates chose to protest with a giant "Trump Baby" blimp because "we wanted to cheer people up." He added that "this would be an effective form of protest against Donald Trump because he's famously vulnerable to personal insults."
Melissa Woolsey, 41, a firefighter from Seattle who has been traveling in Europe, said the protests demonstrated solidarity with Americans who oppose Trump. "It's actually made me feel really hopeful that we're not alone in our views," she said.
When told that Trump suggested that the blimp made him feel unwelcome, she said: "I guess you get a taste of your own medicine. This is harmless - that's what protest and freedom of speech is supposed to be about."
Neil Williams, 53, a film editor from Brighton, said: "He's a narcissist. So I'm sure he's paying attention. After all, it's all about him."
Williams said he came out because he doesn't like Trump's environmental stands - plus he's against "chlorinated chickens" and the big-game hunting by Trump's older sons.
He carried a homemade sign that read, "Hey Trump leave the kids alone." From Pink Floyd, he explained
Denton Brown, 50, a writer in London, said he knew he would be on the streets as soon as he heard Trump was coming
"I'm against this president in every way," he said. "What he says and does about women, immigrants, LGBT. You name it."
He said he believes that the protests - and the wide publicity given to Trump Baby - "will definitely get under his orange skin."
Organizers of Britain's protests aimed to stage some of the largest demonstrations since 2003, when hundreds of thousands hit the streets to oppose war in Iraq.
"I'm marching because of the disdain that Trump has shown for Britain and because of his disgraceful treatment of minorities in the United States," said David Lammy, a leading member in the opposition Labour Party who was scheduled to speak at Friday's rally in London.
"Whenever London experiences a tragedy, it's also the case that Trump licks his lips and tweets," he said.
Lammy noted that Britain has rolled out the red carpet for other controversial political figures before, but "this is the leader of the Free World, this is our closest ally in the global community."
Asad Rehman, 51, one of the organizers of the Stop Trump coalition, said, "Donald Trump will very much hear us and see us."
Campaigners staged a "Keep Trump Awake" protest outside the U.S. ambassador's London residence, where the president and first lady spent Thursday night. They encouraged people to bring "pots, drums and vuvuzelas."
The protests are "not simply about Donald Trump, the man," Rehman said. "It is actually an expression of opposition to the policies and politics he represents, which has echoes across Europe and in the U.K., as well."
But Trump, the man, has also helped to "galvanize a large cross-section of people across multiple issues," he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a frequent Trump foe, said the planned protests were not "anti-American - far from it." But he said that Britain's "special relationship" with the United States means "speaking out when we think one side is not living up to the values we hold dear."
"The eyes of the world will be on London this week. It's an opportunity for our city to show our values, twinned with our world-renowned sense of humour," Khan wrote in the London Evening Standard newspaper.
Polls suggest Trump is unpopular in Britain - but he does have his fans.
Damien Smyth, 52, has temporarily changed the name of his London pub from the Jameson to the Trump Arms to honor the visit. The place is festooned with American and British flags, and a sign above the entrance reads: "Welcome our American Friends."
Trump, Smyth said, has done "wonderful work since taking office" and has "made the world safe again - that's the most important thing, and has done tremendous work with the economy." Smyth, whose wife is from the Bronx, said that while "no one was perfect," he admired Trump for going into politics and said that other successful business executives should do the same.
He said that the "silent majority" in Britain likes Trump, but "it's not cool to say you're a Trump supporter; these people are shunned."
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