Queen to miss Nelson Mandela funeral over security and long-haul flight concerns

Prince Charles will go in her place, and be joined by Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour's Ed Miliband in paying respects to 'hero across countries, continents and parties'

Adam Withnall@adamwithnall
Sunday 08 December 2013 12:15
President Mandela greets Queen Elizabeth II on her official arrival at Cape Town's Waterfront in 1995
President Mandela greets Queen Elizabeth II on her official arrival at Cape Town's Waterfront in 1995

The Queen will not attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral, set to be one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in modern times, it has been reported.

At 87 years old, the British monarch has been advised to avoid long-haul flights where possible, and a Buckingham Palace spokesperson has now confirmed that Prince Charles will travel to South Africa in her place.

The world’s leaders are about to descend on Johannesburg for an official memorial service this Tuesday. It will be held in the 95,000-capacity Soccer City stadium, and has been arranged to alleviate logistical pressures on the tiny village of Qunu, which will host Mr Mandela’s state funeral next Sunday.

Travel and security concerns mean the Queen will not be able to attend either event, according to reports in The Sunday People. The Guardian reported that Prince William could also go to pass on her condolences alongside the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

An official statement issued by the Palace two days ago, and signed Elizabeth R, read: “The Queen was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Nelson Mandela last night. He worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today.

“Her Majesty remembers with great warmth her meetings with Mr Mandela and sends her sincere condolences to his family and the people of South Africa at this very sad time.”

The funeral proceedings this week will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, who wrote in the Observer today that Mr Mandela “is now a hero across countries, continents and parties”.

Among other world leaders to confirm that they will be flying out to South Africa this week are US President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will also attend, and is expected to be joined by prominent figures from Iran, Israel, China, Cuba and the Palestinian territories.

Instead of going to the official services, the Queen will honour the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former president with a service at Westminster Abbey, believed to be the first of its kind for a non-British citizen.

Abbey spokesman Duncan Jeffery told the Mirror last night: “There will be a thanksgiving service which we are looking to hold in the New Year.”

Today was declared a national day of prayer by South African President Jacob Zuma. After the memorial service on Tuesday, Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria for three days.

His remains will finally be taken to his birthplace Qunu, for a state funeral on 15 December.

Speaking of the challenges faced in organising the various services, thought to rival the funerals of Pope John Paul II and Winston Churchill in modern times, a senior foreign diplomat told the Guardian: “He is the hero of the planet.

”It’s going to be the biggest state funeral since Winston Churchill, and I think any country would struggle to organise that.“

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