LONDON: The tens of thousands of people queuing to file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth were warned yesterday that it would now take up to 24 hours to reach the building, and that temperatures overnight were expected to be cold.
People of all ages and from all walks of life have paid their respects to the late queen, joining a well-organised line that stretches along the south bank of the Thames then over the river to parliament’s Westminster Hall.
Such has been the demand that by mid-morning organisers decided the line was too long and urged people to stay away – a testimony to the respect and affection for the queen, who died in Scotland on September 8 at the age of 96 after a 70-year reign.
Despite the warning – repeated across local rail stations – people continued to flood into Southwark Park to join the back of the queue, many in high spirits. In contrast, those who emerged from the Lying-In-State were quiet, reflective and a little stiff.
“I’ve no sensation in my knees at all or my legs,” said Hyacinth Appah, a mourner from London who was in the queue.
“But it’s been fine. Most of the people have been lovely and we’ve had quite a nice time.”
Some 750,000 people in total are expected to file past the queen’s coffin ahead of the state funeral on Monday.
Reuben Fevrier, a 50-year-old accountant from London, said he wanted to celebrate the queen’s service and stoicism, while 29-year-old Naomi Brown said she had so much respect for the queen because “not once did she ever falter.”
“This is the least I can do,” said Fevrier.
King Charles and his sister Princess Anne and brothers Princes Andrew and Edward kept a silent vigil around the coffin yesterday, joining the ceremonial guard for a 15-minute period.
The coffin stands in the ancient Westminster Hall on a purple-clad catafalque, draped in the Royal Standard and with the bejewelled Imperial State Crown placed on top.
Soldiers in ceremonial uniform and other officials are keeping vigil around it as people walk past to pay homage after their long wait. Many have been in tears, and others have saluted or bowed their heads.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in London for the funeral, was among those who visited Westminster Hall yesterday, stopping to curtsy as she filed past the coffin.
Former England football captain David Beckham looked tearful as he waited to file past the coffin, having queued for more than 13 hours on his own, snacking on crisps, sweets and donuts.
“Something like this today is meant to be shared together,” he said, wearing a dark suit and flat cap.
London’s police force said the funeral will be the biggest security operation it has ever undertaken as prime ministers, presidents and royals come together to pay their respects.
The force has been preparing for possibilities ranging from terrorism threats to protests and crowd crushes, senior police official Stuart Cundy said.
US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Australia, Canada and Jamaica will join the emperor of Japan among the congregation.
“We have been overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect to such a very special and unique person,” Prince Edward, her youngest son, said in a statement.
King Charles, who acceded to the throne on his mother’s death, earlier visited Wales, the last stage of a tour of the United Kingdom to acknowledge his status as the new monarch and head of state and to greet the public.
Charles and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, attended a service at Cardiff’s Llandaff Cathedral and then talked with cheering well-wishers outside.
Wales has a particular significance for the new king, who for five decades preceding last week’s accession had the title Prince of Wales.
Speaking at the Welsh parliament, Charles said: “Through all the years of her reign, the land of Wales could not have been closer to my mother’s heart. I know she took immense pride in your many great achievements – even as she also felt with you deeply in time of sorrow.
“I am resolved to honour that selfless example,” he said, speaking in Welsh and English.
There were a few anti-monarchy protesters outside Cardiff Castle, where Charles met Welsh First Minster Mark Drakeford.
One man held a banner saying “Cancel Royals” and a placard saying “End Prince of Wales Title”. Another read: “Not My King”.
Similar small protests have been held outside the parliament building in London and in Edinburgh over the past days, although King Charles has enjoyed a surge in support since he succeeded Elizabeth.
The new Prince of Wales, William, and his brother Prince Harry and the queen’s six other grandchildren will stand vigil at the coffin today evening, a royal spokesman said.
In an adjustment to protocol, both Harry and his uncle Prince Andrew will be allowed to wear military uniform when they take their turns at vigil, royal officials said.
Both are war veterans – Andrew having served as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot in the Falklands War and Harry serving two tours of duty with the British Army in Afghanistan. But so far they have appeared in processions in morning suits as they lost their honorary military titles when they stepped back from public royal duties.
The state funeral is likely to be one of the grandest ceremonies ever seen in the British capital, involving thousands of military personnel.
London’s Heathrow Airport has said it will cancel 15 per cent of its flight schedule on Monday to guarantee that the skies will be quiet during a two-minute silence at the end of the funeral.
Monday has been declared a national holiday. Many shops will be closed and most activities will grind to a halt.