The Daily Telegraph

We were strangers, but bound together by a beloved monarch

- Jack Rear Additional reporting by Olivia Rudgard and Gurpreet Narwan

We’d been waiting in line for about seven hours before there was even a hint of movement in the queue. At about 4pm a cry went up from a steward: “We’re moving!” We all looked at each other, unsure if it was really happening, having grown used to this stretch of pavement where we’d been waiting since 9am.

There were whoops of joy as we crossed Westminste­r Bridge. There was excitement; a nervous energy; no one quite sure what to expect when we got there.

There were fears the queue to see the lying in state would be a 30-hour waking nightmare, people trudging ceaselessl­y forward through the night from London Bridge, 2.5 miles down the South Bank, to the Palace of Westminste­r. Yet, the thing I’ll remember is the raucous camaraderi­e.

It struck me that we were people who’d never have crossed paths otherwise, and suddenly we were getting along like a house on fire. We compared notes on what snacks we’d brought, shared stories about times we’d crossed paths with various royals, engaged in the Chinese whispers going up and down about exactly how long we’d be there for.

Having heard the worst-case scenarios, I felt some trepidatio­n as I got off at London Bridge station this morning and made my way to the South Bank. Yet the queue itself was nowhere to be found. I passed the Globe, the Tate Modern, the British Film Institute, Royal Festival Hall, the London Eye and Shrek’s Adventure and couldn’t spot it.

As I climbed up the steps to Westminste­r Bridge, I approached a knot of stewards who were directing a woman. “That way, down there,” a man told her gruffly. I followed her and we joined the queue together.

“I’m glad they told us. I thought I’d never find it,” she said, introducin­g herself as Haley Rowell, a former civil servant who got up at 5am to get a train from her native Peterborou­gh.

Preparing for the British weather, we’d both thought long and hard about our outfits. For my part, I wore waterproof hiking boots, jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt as a base layer, and a mournfully black T-shirt over it, as well as my puffy black raincoat. As the morning sun rose higher, it did start to feel slightly excessive.

Haley and I were joined in the queue by Rachel and her nine-year-old daughter Emily, who’d come from Guildford. “I have wanted to come for a very long time and I wanted to come with Emily,” Rachel told me.

None of my queue-mates were traditiona­l royalists, though all felt a shared respect for the late Queen.

“My respect is for the Queen and her personal example,” Rachel said. “She made vows on her 26th birthday and kept them for 70 years. She set an example of leadership as a service.”

There were a number of chancers who’d arrived late and attempted to barge in at the front of the queue.

“Would you mind if I just hopped in front of you,” asked an awfully proper woman, awfully politely.

“Yes, actually. We’ve been here for four hours already. We’re not just going to let you go in ahead of us. It wouldn’t be British,” we informed her.

Behind us, a scuffle broke out involving a very sweary chap who claimed to have been in the queue “since five o’clock” (spuriously, I might add), and a woman called a pair of police officers to move him along.

It was all quite lovely, though. As the procession moved down The Mall, strangers clustered around each other’s phones to live-stream it. “It’s our nation’s history, happening right in front of us,” I heard a mother telling her small daughter, wiping a tear from her eyes.

Crossing over Lambeth Bridge and heading into the grounds of the Palace of Westminste­r, it did begin to feel curiously like we were queuing for a ride at Disneyland as we trooped through the ropes, emptying our bags into trays through the security system.

And then phones off, buttons done up, into Westminste­r Hall.

The thing I can’t quite shake was the stillness. A steward’s ticker gently clicked as we passed through the great oak doors, and there was an almost inaudible rattle of the ceremonial armour of the guard standing watch. But it was cool, and still.

The coffin itself, draped in the Royal Standard with crown, sceptre and orb on top, looked almost incongruou­sly colourful. The image of it seemed to draw all the colour out of everything else. As I looked around in the hall it seemed as though all had changed into black mourning garb. We passed the coffin and a few curtsied or bowed, but after passing it, none looked back to catch one final glimpse of it.

As the evening sun hit us, I turned to see Haley softly weeping beside me.

“I held it together,” she said apologetic­ally, dabbing her eyes.

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