Signs on the roads into Windsor on Saturday warned motorists against non-essential travel and not to gather at royal residences, while armed officers patrolled the cobbled streets of the town in anticipation of what might lie ahead.
Hundreds of people gathered behind barricades erected along the Long Walk and outside the main gate to the castle from the town centre ahead of the duke’s funeral, despite the procession taking place out of view inside the castle grounds.
But despite the crowds, there was an air of calm over Windsor as the throngs of people royal events usually attract heeded the message to pay their respects from home because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On the high street, a steady stream of shoppers, enjoying their first taste of weekend retail therapy since non-essential shops reopened, stopped to watch in curiosity as the world’s media lined the streets to report on a royal funeral like no other.
Kaya Mar, a political satirist from London, carried around a giant portrait he had painted in tribute to the duke. “It’s a tribute to his life, I liked him very much,” he said. “I’m not a royalist; as a person, I liked him.”
Meanwhile, children elbow bumped passing police officers and gaped at men in military dress entering the castle grounds, while a couple in matching hats spoke to the press.
Closer to the gates on Castle Hill, the mood suddenly shifted to a sombre atmosphere as onlookers stood around in respectful silence waiting for the funeral to begin.
People in the crowd followed live TV coverage of the funeral on their mobile phones as the procession began on the other side of the castle walls and mourners listened intently as the leading drum of a marching band could be heard drawing closer beyond the gate.
Speaking to The Independent outside the castle were mother and daughter Lucinda, 27, and Julie Lohse, 62, who said it was a “really sad” day but that it was “lovely to be a part of it”.
“It’s nice seeing everyone, you know, wanting to be a part of the day,” Lucinda said, while Julie explained she had only just moved to Windsor and so felt it was “quite an emotional day”.
Asked if they were fans of the royal family, the pair replied quickly “yes”, and went on to recount their favourite moment of the late duke. They picked the incident in which famously straight-talking Philip told a photographer to “just take the f****ing picture” at a Battle of Britain anniversary event.
Austrian Roman Topler, 47, who was outside the castle on Saturday, described the duke as being “very important, not just to the UK”.
“Prince Philip was a very iconic person, a very distinctive person,” Mr Topler said. “He was a very important person, and not just to the UK but for Europe too.”
Mr Topler added that because countries like Austria do not have their own royal family, Philip and the monarchy he represented play an “important role” in non-British people’s lives too.
The national anthem rang out, before a gun fired to mark the beginning of a nationwide minute’s silence and a hush descended on Windsor.
Some of those gathered bowed their heads in respect, while others stared straight ahead as if picturing the duke’s coffin being carried up the steps of St George’s Chapel.
As the minute’s silence came to an end, a clap broke out somewhere in the crowd and gathered momentum as more people joined in before a commotion suddenly broke out near the statue of Queen Victoria.
Uniformed police could be seen descending on a topless woman who had run into the road at the bottom of Castle Hill shouting “save the planet” before she was wrapped in a covering and escorted away by officers and stewards.
Less than an hour after the funeral service began, news trickled through to those outside the castle walls that the royal family had left the chapel.
With nothing left to see, the camera crews quietly packed up their equipment and the crowds slowly drifted away after marking a final farewell to the Queen’s “strength and stay” of more than 70 years, sharing in the collective knowledge that they will probably never witness a royal funeral of this kind ever again.
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