The Daily Telegraph

Stoic silence was the perfect goodbye gift for our monarch

Mourners from the Royal Mile to Buckingham Palace lined roads to watch the final journey of Elizabeth II

- Celia Walden

It takes something tectonic to bring the modern world to a standstill

Despite all the pomp, it’s Her Majesty’s humanity that is at the heart of her appeal – and has us feeling her loss so viscerally

It is the silence that has been most striking, most touching, most awe-inspiring. From the moment the Queen’s final journey began – shortly after 10am in Balmoral on Sunday – that silence has been deafening.

It takes something tectonic to bring the modern world to a standstill. Our hectic, impulsive, restless lives don’t allow for silence. Because stillness; silence, prompts reflection.

We actively fear it and even when we do occasional­ly try to turn off the noise, something – a phone, a horn, a barking dog or curse from the street beyond – is bound to cut that short.

Yet last night, along the 15-mile route through the Bayswater Road, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Constituti­on Hill and up to Buckingham Palace, the crowds that turned out to watch the late Queen’s coffin pass were sober, quiet and notably still beneath their multicolou­red umbrellas.

Just as they were last Thursday, hours after the Queen’s death was announced, when I went to Buckingham Palace and was amazed by the serenity of the crowds outside; by the lack of hysteria.

Asked why she was braving the filthy weather to watch the Queen pass by, one woman said: “I would just like to see her before I can’t see her anymore.” Not only did this sum up the thoughts of many intent on paying their respects while the Queen lies in state in London this week, but it was tellingly intimate.

Despite all the pomp and circumstan­ce, all the ritual and the heavy symbolism that could alienate the public if this were anyone else, it’s Her Majesty’s humanity that is at the heart of her appeal – and has us feeling her loss so viscerally.

As the hearse made its way through a damp and dusky west London towards Buckingham Palace, drivers – overcome by emotion – pulled over and climbed out of their cars to watch. One Sky commentato­r pointed out the number of phones being held aloft, and how different the scenes were back in 1997, when we were mourning the death of Princess Diana. But I was struck by the opposite: by the quantity of people who had not defaulted to what must surely be a self-protection mechanism – a way of distancing yourself from life when it gets too real, too painful. Those mourners were

standing in the rain with their hands behind their backs, allowing every emotion to sink in. It was the same in Scotland. When the coffin was taken by hearse from St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh – where some 26,000 people came to pay their respects – nothing broke the silence. Not a crying baby or cawing crow. Not a protester, seizing his or her moment. Not a plane overhead. Even when the Royal Company of Archers effected their salute all that could be heard was the clicking of their boot heels. Only when the cortège began to make its way slowly along the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Airport – a route the Queen took countless times in her lifetime – was the silence perforated by a single, spontaneou­s burst of applause. It felt like a “thank you” to the woman Nicola Sturgeon once described as “the anchor of our nation” as the reality hit home: this really was the Queen’s final farewell to her northern capital. At Edinburgh airport scenes reached peak poignancy as, beneath the eye of the Queen’s sorrowing daughter, a bearer party from the Royal Air Force carried the casket onto the gun-metal grey aircraft. Stoicfaced, cheeks pressed against it, these men seemed too young, somehow, to be bearing such a weight. But what an honour, too. That RAF plane took off in clear blue Scottish skies and landed, less than an hour later, at a grey and rainy RAF Northolt.

It was dark as the cortège finally arrived at Buckingham Palace, and thousands of mourners watched as a group of shadowy figures – a further guard of honour formed by the King’s Guard – received the coffin outside the Grand Entrance. There was the odd cheer, a round of applause, a “hip hip hooray”, before the crowd fell back into extraordin­ary, reverentia­l silence.

How the Queen would have approved of that silence. Particular­ly given it felt not enforced or deliberate but natural, instinctiv­e. A muchneeded pause; a deep intake of breath at this unforgetta­ble moment in history. At the end of Queen Elizabeth II’S story, and the start of the next chapter of our lives.

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