The Queen lying in state has the makings of a disaster to shame the nation

A 30-hour long shuffle through the streets of London isn’t practical, or even humane. It is hardly befitting the memory of her late majesty

Sean O'Grady
Friday 16 September 2022 12:24 BST
People begin queuing to see Queen Elizabeth II's coffin in London

Anyone thinking about attending then lying-in-state for the Queen will need the kind of reserves of physical and mental stamina normally associated with running a marathon or climbing Ben Nevis.

There can be very few people who will be able to queue for five miles and for more than a day in order to pay their last respects. And when I say more than a day, I don’t mean a working day of eight hours or even 24 hours – but a full 30 hours. That’s just the latest guesstimate. It could, conceivably, be even longer.

Nor is this going to be like when people spend the night camped out for Wimbledon or a royal wedding, with a bit of camaraderie, sleeping bags and tents providing minimal protection from the elements (and it is getting a bit cooler in the evening). No. This queue will be constantly shuffling along the streets of London. As the government website gently puts it, this is a journey “with very little opportunity to sit down as the queue will be continuously moving”.

You’ll have to sleep on your feet, and when you eventually get to Westminster Hall, you’ll be too exhausted to know where you are and what you’re doing there. The government has warned people about the physical endurance test they’ll have to go through, and advised them not to bring children.

What they haven’t done, because it’s probably unlawful, is advise people with disabilities not to bother turning up, or tell people who are frail that this gig isn’t for them. That, however, is the effect of what is being “organised” right now. The only people who’ll be able to file past the catafalque in a comfortable way without queuing will be MPs and other dignitaries. Old soldiers and people who use wheelchairs will be four miles down the road, waiting in a miserable line with no easy access to a loo, food or drink or indeed rest. It doesn’t seem very fair.

I’d say it’s nuts, and has the makings of a disaster to shame the nation. We need to find a better way of doing things. In the past, lyings-in-state were easier to arrange because there was less need for security, baggage checks and the numbers would be smaller than seems likely for Queen Elizabeth II.

Perhaps back in 1952, for George VI, people with disabilities just didn’t go along because that was the way of the world back then. But we live in more enlightened times now.

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Perhaps it is too late, but there might be a way to provide a simple ballot with specified time bands that would enable people to pay respects without endangering their health, and put all mourners on an equal footing. There are lots of events such as this, and plenty of organisations that know how to make the necessary arrangements. We might have also organised a way for mourners to mark their thanks by lining the road as the coffin came to London.

It also has to be said that the 11th century Westminster Hall – in its day the largest “room” in Europe – isn’t well-suited to the task of hosting a mass event. A more radical move would be to keep the Westminster Hall event, but have the lying-in-state for the public in a bigger place, such as St Paul’s. I’d even advocate using the distinctly untraditional NEC in Birmingham.

This would maximise the numbers who could attend and take the strain off London, and there’d be little queuing. Bear in mind, a public lying-in-state for a monarch isn’t some ritual dating back to Arthur or William the Conqueror, but to George V, in response to public demand. As the House of Windsor often showed, old ways can be modernised.

An online ballot system for Westminster Hall would necessarily mean fewer people might be able to attend, but that’s surely preferable to the chaos which is fast approaching. A 30-hour long shuffle through the streets of London isn’t practical, or even humane. It is hardly befitting the memory of her late majesty.

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