The Daily Telegraph
‘I don’t care if we have to wait 24 hours. I’d wait 48 hours to see my Queen’
Iqueued for my mum. A veteran of the crowds that lined The Mall for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, she would have loved to have done it herself.
But at 91, now in a care home and with early onset dementia, it was out of the question.
I did it for myself, too: like almost everybody I encountered in the queue to see the late Queen lying in state, my entire life has fallen within the reign of Elizabeth II and I wanted to show respect.
I also – despite horror stories of the queue reaching 10 miles with a waiting time of 24 hours or more – found myself irresistibly drawn.
Of course, I wanted to see the coffin and the crown and to be awestruck by the magnificence of the spectacle and the setting.
But I also wanted to experience The Queue. Or more specifically, the spontaneous camaraderie and good will generated by the coming together of Britons from all regions, classes and ethnicities, united in a desire to celebrate an extraordinary life – and to say thank you.
I quickly fell in with a mother and daughter from Hertfordshire and a woman from Reading as we reached the Thames at Bermondsey and the four of us became “queue family”, instant besties in a journey that began in Southwark Park in the late afternoon and ended up at Westminster Hall shortly before dawn.
For the best part of 13 hours we queued and chatted; queued and laughed, queued and munched – Jaffa Cakes, humbugs and – nice touch – coronation chicken sandwiches. We queued and looked out for each other in that quintessentially British way.
A group of women ahead of us had also gelled and in very high spirits talked through the intricacies of the curtsy and whether they would be bold enough to attempt it when the moment came (they weren’t).
There was an impromptu dance when, as darkness fell, we crossed under Tower Bridge and received the orange wristbands that were our tickets to entry.
There was no turning back – though little did we realise we still had over eight hours to go.
“I don’t care if we have to wait 24 hours,” declared Darren, a queuer from south London dressed in a black suit, waistcoat and natty red handkerchief. “I’d wait 48 hours to see my Queen.”
With mum in mind, I’d brought a black tie myself – I wanted to look the part. Though most of the night was spent covered in about five layers of clothing to keep out the cold.
Apart from the banter and the lovely characters, the queue also involved walking through the very heart of London – from the wharfs at Bermondsey through to the Tower, the Shard, St Paul’s, the Eye and, finally, the Palace of Westminster, all gloriously illuminated.
“It’s like we are getting a tour of London’s greatest hits,” commented one fellow queuer.
Spirits were also energised by the weekend party atmosphere – people out on the town for a bit of fun or sailing down the river, disco beat blaring. (“Her Majesty would have approved,” we concurred.)
I don’t deny that despite the layers and the new-found friendships, I did occasionally shiver, spirits sagged and I wondered what on earth had possessed me to stay out all night in the cold and to walk (or shuffle) along several miles of river bank never quite knowing if I would reach the goal.
But then, finally, just after 5am, our moment came and we were admitted into the sacred hall.
There was an instant hush, and a silent gasp, as we found ourselves witnessing the changing of the guard.
Then it was our turn to file slowly past the coffin, bearing the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre, containing the late, great Queen Elizabeth II.
Some made the sign of the cross; some curtseyed; some blew kisses; others, myself included, bowed their heads. It had all been utterly worth it.
Your Majesty, my mother salutes you.
And so do I.
There was an instant hush, and a silent gasp, as we found ourselves witnessing the changing of the guard