The Daily Telegraph
Crowds came out and stood in the drizzle, brought together by grief
As people turned up at The Mall to pay their respects, a rainbow appeared above the Victoria Memorial. Then it vanished
At 4pm, as the crowds began to gather outside Buckingham Palace, the rain had started to fall, and the Union flag hung bedraggled on its staff. For the most part, it was tourists, come to take selfies against the Palace railings, unaware as yet that they were joining a vigil, for the passing of a monarch who had been something more than a monarch, the passing of an era.
The press photographers had gathered, kept at a distance from the palace gates by the police; the broadcasting trucks were assembled to one side. A young woman walked past with a jacket emblazoned with a slogan: Refuse, Resist, Revolt. A fashion statement – at a time like this. A solitary voice at the railings rang out, “God save the Queen”.
Brian, a truck driver, and his wife Cindy were visitors from Alberta, Canada. Cindy was “the ardent royalist”, she said. She has sent birthday cards to the Queen, and all the immediate members of the Royal family, “and I always got a reply. There’s just something about her that just touched my heart”.
More people arrived, the trickle becoming a stream, as news had spread on phones and TV. A woman who would give her name only as Nicki said: “Just Nicki, I’m supposed to be at work, but I had to come to be present at a moment of history. She dedicated her life to the country and that should be respected.” She looked around: “It feels like a national community.”
Many said this. That just by being present, standing in the drizzle, waiting patiently, a ritual of community, togetherness, was being observed, people brought together at a troubled and fractious time for the nation, as if the passing of the Queen would somehow provide a greater solace even at a time of grief.
Sheltering under a Union flag umbrella, Digby Walker, from Ayrshire in Scotland, had gone for an interview to join as a reservist in the Scots Guards. He said: “She lived a life in a spirit of duty, integrity, service which she didn’t choose. I’m filled with great optimism for the future but it does feel like a real moment in time.
“I think once the moment passes, when we are able to celebrate the life of the Queen and reflect on what she gave to this country, I think it can be used for this country as a springboard to reset in terms of the values and service she embodied, and for the whole country to reflect on what it means to serve.” The Potts family had
‘She lived a life in a spirit of duty, integrity, service which she didn’t choose. It does feel like a real moment in time’
come up from Guildford to visit the Royal Collection and found it closed, and wondered why that might be the case. Now they wore an expression of grave concern.
“She’s been on the throne for as long as I’ve been alive,” said Mr Potts, measuring his life-span against hers.
“She is the glue that holds the nation,” said his teenage son. Looking at the pictures of Her Majesty with Liz Truss, taken only the day before yesterday, he said he had been struck by how grandmotherly she looked. “She is the grandmother of the nation,” he said.
The rain had become torrential now, as if the sky itself was crying. Huddling under an umbrella were Ian Crane, an electrician, and his wife Debbie. They were visitors from Washington State, America, and had been having afternoon tea at their hotel when the newsflash came.
Ian was born in England but emigrated to America in 1972. He had always been a royalist: “Still am.” She came to the throne in the year he was born, and he still keeps the small commemorative mug that was given to all the children, “front and centre in our cabinet”.
“Everyone in America loves the Queen,” said Debbie, “and now what’s going on with the Royal family and Meghan and everything?” She gave a deep, sorrowful sigh.
There was supposed to be an announcement at 4pm, somebody said. No, it was postponed to five, no, six. The rumours began to spread, she died in her sleep, no, this morning? “How will we know?” somebody with an American accent asked.
And then the news came, rippling through the crowd.
“Is that... is that the flag being lowered?” said one man near the front, and all heads turned upwards, away from the phone screens that had been constantly refreshing, searching for news.
As the flag got to halfway, there was a sudden joint pinging of phones all going off at once.
A round of applause sprang up out of nowhere, and suddenly a crowd of people waiting near the statue facing the Palace started singing the national anthem. “God save the Queen!” they shouted.
A young woman stood alone, sobbing. A man was on the phone, saying to his partner: “Just get down here, quick!”
All afternoon the crowds had trickled in, but now the numbers broke like a dam. Cars drove slowly down The Mall, dodging the throngs of people drawn, like pilgrims, to the Palace. They climbed on to barriers, up steps and on top of the statue: anything to get the best view.
Annette German, a retired teacher from south London, had attended the Coronation. “I share a birthday with the Queen and I’ve listened to the national anthem every birthday. I’m from a Left-wing family but massively in favour, the Queen could not have better dedicated her life to her country,” she said.
John Loughrey, 67, from Wandsworth, south-west London, stood weeping. “I met the Queen twice. I gave flowers to her. I can’t believe it,” he said. “She went downhill after the Duke of Edinburgh died. They were like two swans. God save the Queen.”
Mr Loughrey said he would be camping near the Palace for 10 days as a mark of respect before lighting a candle for her at Westminster Abbey.
At royal residences across the country, crowds had gathered throughout the afternoon to await news, and now to pay tribute. At Balmoral, police moved the crowds further from the castle gates, and across the surging River Dee, anticipating an influx of more mourners.
Keith and Becky Guyer, from Massachusetts, US, were in Scotland on holiday and changed their plans after hearing of the concerns for Her Majesty’s health. News of her death came just as they arrived at Balmoral.
“It just feels heavy here, that’s the best way to describe it,” Mr Guyer, a 49-year-old carpenter, said. “I worry after this, for the world. The Queen always represented something hopeful, a grounding in the past and balance for the future. There is universal respect for her in America. I would think there will be a national day of mourning in the US.”
At Windsor, as police cordoned off the area closest to the castle entrance, mourners were redirected around side streets to control the gathering crowd. A small boy, less than four years old, was one of the first to leave a floral tribute, bemused by the cameras clicking behind him. One boy among a group of teenagers walking past the tributes said: “I just want to cry, really.”
A sense of community reigned as young and old, pausing before the floral tributes, paid their respects.
Outside Buckingham Palace, an hour before the news came, the rain had abated, and suddenly there was a double-rainbow arching above the Victoria Memorial. Everybody’s heads turned. A woman I was talking to said: “My daughter will know what that means.” Her daughter texted back straight away. “A double rainbow is said to denote spiritual transformation. Signifying new beginnings and good changes.” Then the clouds gathered once more and the rainbow was gone.