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‘I thought she’d live forever’: Thousands brave rain to mourn the Queen outside Buckingham Palace

Mourners gathered in London after monarch’s death speak of shock at the passing of a life-long constant

Colin Drury
Buckingham Palace
Friday 09 September 2022 01:05 BST
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Mourning Britons sing national anthem outside Buckingham Palace following news of Queen's death

They came in their thousands, in the rain and the dark. United by grief, they stood, sobbed and sang.

Mourners braved downpours to gather outside Buckingham Palace through the night and pay their respects to the Queen after she died at Balmoral on Thursday.

They clutched umbrellas and flowers, candles and each other’s hands. They spoke in hushed tones. They did not hide their tears or their shock.

“I just thought she’d live forever,” said one, hairdresser James O’Neill. “She’s been there throughout my entire life and I sort of thought she always would be. And for her to be gone – so suddenly – it doesn’t feel real. How can the Queen not be here?”

It was a much-repeated theme. For many here, this was not just the passing of a much-loved monarch, it was also the passing of a life-long constant. It was the end of the only era they had – up to now – ever known.

“Whatever else was going on – the war, the pandemic, the cost of living – you knew the Queen was there,” said 32-year-old O’Neill. “You knew she would keep everything stable. And, without her, I think it does feel like the world has got a little less certain.”

He and colleague Julie Harper, 37, had come straight from work when they heard the news and had spent a couple of hours milling with the crowds.

“We just wanted to pay our respects and be here,” she said. “I was here for the [platinum] jubilee and I remember I cried in the cab home because I was so happy I’d seen it. Well, tonight, I’m going to be crying for different reasons, aren’t I?”

James O’Neill and Julie Harper came from work to pay their respects to the Queen (The Independent)

A sense of astonishment at the death was palpable, even as the evening went on.

That the Queen was 96 and known to be having health issues had not blunted the sudden shock of the news.

“Two days ago she was appointing a new prime minister,” said Felicity Thomas. “There was no just no warning of what was coming. And I know she’s 96 but her mother lived until she was 101. Her husband was 99. She has the best medical care available. I honestly thought there might be a 75th jubilee in her. And then to see the news today … it’s devastating.”

She and colleagues had been having an after-work drink when the news broke. They supped up, went to Sainsbury’s, bought some flowers and came down. “It was all we were talking about anyway,” said 39-year-old Thomas. “So we thought we might as well come and talk about it here.”

Among the mourners – who towards the end of the night broke into occasional bursts of the national anthem – were young and old, from Britain and beyond.

American BreeLayne Carter – who has lived in the UK for almost three years – had come to the palace because the Queen, she said, had been a “major reason” why she had grown up wanting to move to London.

“I just thought – I still think – she was the epitome of poise and grace and what a strong independent woman should be,” the 30-year-old actor said. “She was the most amazing role model you could wish for as a young person. She was inspirational. Everything she did – in often really difficult circumstance – had class.”

American expats BreeLayne Carter and Sara Burke laid flowers for the Queen (The Independent)

Carter welled up as she spoke. At least, she said, it had been a peaceful end to a good life, at a home she loved with her family by her side. Her friend – and fellow American expat Sara Burke – nodded at this. “There’s some comfort in that,” the 44-year-old accountant added.

For Gina Markham, meanwhile, the moment was so significant that when her young daughter said the family should come to Buckingham Palace to mark it, that’s just what they did.

The five of them – mum Gina, dad Ricky and kids Georgie, Sonny and Dolcie – spent an hour paying their respect. “She served for 70 years and, pretty much, she never put a foot wrong,” said 42-year-old Gina, a school worker. “How many people could do that? She deserves all the tributes she gets over the coming days and more.”

It would, she said, take some time to now get used to hearing the phrase ‘His Majesty the King’.

“If he [Charles] can do half as good a job as his mother, he’ll be a great king,” she said. “Let’s hope he does her proud.”

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