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‘Like making a pilgrimage’: Tens of thousands queue for hours to pay tribute to Queen at Buckingham Palace

‘They’ll be talking about this day for centuries, and we can say we were here,’ says one well-wisher who persevered through lengthy waiting times

Colin Drury
Buckingham Palace
Sunday 11 September 2022 17:18 BST
Laying tributes as a crowd felt like a ‘communal experience’, some said
Laying tributes as a crowd felt like a ‘communal experience’, some said (Reuters)

The queue was huge. It snaked out into St James’s Park, down the Mall, across into Green Park and up to Picadilly Circus. For some people, it took more than two hours to navigate. Many gave up long before they got to the front. But for those who persevered, it was, they said, absolutely worth it.

This was the scene as tens of thousands of people descended on Buckingham Palace on Sunday to pay their final respects to the Queen.

They came with flowers and notes of gratitude for 70 years of service, and they soaked in a blue-skied atmosphere that was part sorrowful, part celebratory. And which was positively not going to be spoiled by a bit of waiting around.

“We’re British!” declared James Bonehill, a 25-year-old transport consultant. “Queueing is what we do. What’s two hours to experience a moment of history? I’d have queued far longer if necessary. They’ll be talking about this day for centuries, and we can say we were here. That’s pretty amazing.”

The queuing, some suggested, had even added to the whole experience.

“Do you know what?” asked Rani Shergill, a 52-year-old IT engineer. “We were coming slowly down the Mall and, because you’re with thousands of others all making the same journey, it almost felt like a pilgrimage.

“For me, it turned it into a communal experience. The atmosphere – there’s people talking, smiling, remembering her [the Queen]. I think it suits her legacy. She’s brought people together one last time. It’s perfect, actually.”

The mother-of-one herself had brought flowers, though had not been able to get hold of anything white and yellow – the colours reported to have been the Queen’s favourite colours. “The florist said everyone had been asking for the same,” she said.

The headline moment of the day for many came when police were suddenly everywhere and – here he comes, here he comes! – the new King Charles III was driven down the Mall and into the palace grounds. He didn’t do much in the back of that car. What could he do? But he smiled and he waved, and that was enough. It was a home crowd, after all.

“We can now say we’ve seen the King,” said Carrie Faraday, a 42-year-old housing officer. “And that’s such a huge thing.”

Carrie Faraday (middle) with daughters Darcy and Erin (Colin Drury/The Independent)

She and husband Nathan had bought their two daughters – Darcy, 13, and Erin, 10 – to witness the momentous day. They’d also brought their son, Quinn, but, at three years old, he was more interested, not unreasonably perhaps, in his iPad than in accessions.

“I just thought it was important for them to come,” said Carrie. “Days like this don’t come along very often and it’s something they’ll be able to look back on and tell their children about, their grandchildren.”

She had, she said, just the slightest twinge of guilt as the King came past. “We were all so excited,” she said. “But that’s someone who is dealing with the loss of their mother so I did feel mixed emotions. But I think the support [of the crowds] must be a comfort to him.”

Queues to get to Buckingham Palace (PA)

Remembering that the world is too big for even the most momentous death to stop it turning, more conversation appeared to revolve around the new monarch than his mother.

A general consensus suggested that he would make for a good king.

“Well,” said Maureen Sparks, “he’s learnt from the best, hasn’t he?”

The 71-year-old retired teacher pointed out that who many see as this country’s three greatest monarchs – Elizabeth, Victoria and now Elizabeth II – have all been women.

“So, he’s immediately at a disadvantage,” she smiled. “But I think he’s made an exemplary start. His speech had such gravitas and dignity at such a difficult time.”

She had, in fact, been thinking about the now almost clichéd refrain that the Queen was the country’s constant over a period of huge change.

“I think that’s true but we’ve had Charles for 70 years too,” she said. “So, I think, if he does it right, it will feel very natural for him to be King. I suspect the consistency will remain.”

James Bonehill and Llewelyn Rees (Colin Drury/The Independent)

As people moved away from the palace, they were filtered into Green Park where a sea of flowers was filling the grounds. So many bunches that the air had taken on a perfumed scent all of its own.

Yet the sheer numbers of people here – and those massive queues – did rather raise a question.

If so many people are still so keen to pay their respects to the Queen, will just four days lying in state be enough?

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