In the line to see Queen Elizabeth II, mourners make history and friends

by | Sep 17, 2022 | Top Stories

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This portion of the line ran between the National COVID Memorial Wall and the Thames River, with a view of the Houses of Parliament on the other side.

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LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of mourners from across and beyond the United Kingdom are waiting more than 10 hours on foot for just a few precious seconds with the late Queen Elizabeth II — the only monarch most have ever known, and the last queen of England many are expecting to see in their lifetimes. On Friday, the line — referred to in England as the queue — to see the queen lying in state at Westminster Hall hit five miles and had to be paused, as wait times stretched towards 24 hours. The separate accessible queue closed permanently the next day after reaching capacity.

The public had been promised long days, chilly nights and sore calves, but still showed up. More than a dozen devotees NPR spoke to in line and at the hall’s exit all agreed that the experience, however draining, was well worth it. “It’s been really strange actually, because if you tell a Brit that they’re going to be queuing for that long, they’d rather say ‘Why?'” laughs military veteran Chris Jay, about 10 and a half hours into her wait. “But obviously the queen [is] such an important part to many people in the U.K. and especially those that have been in the armed forces and served and given the oath of allegiance to the queen. I just felt compelled to come down here.”

Some people came from other parts of the U.K. and Europe, others traveled from places as far away as Canada and the U.S. Their precise motivations and feelings about the monarchy varied, but they shared much in common: appreciation for the queen’s dedication, eagerness to participate in history and a mix of uncertainty and optimism about the future of the monarchy under King Charles III.

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After exiting Westminster Hall, Debbie, Stephen and Ashleigh Harvey (L to R) said they were headed to the pub to toast the queen.

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“Everyone was in really high spirits,” said Ashleigh Harvey as she finally exited the hall after about 13 hours. “I think so many people were honored to be here for however long it was going to take in the queue, and everyone had accepted that and was more than happy to wait as long as it took just to pay our respects.” The mood was mournful but also joyful, as people gathered together to celebrate the queen. Some dressed for the occasion, like the rugby coach wearing a Union Jack button-up vest and the history buff dressed as a 17th-century royalist, cloak and all. And despite the reported safety issues and crowding concerns, many line-goers bonded with their neighbors and described the shared sense of community as a highlight of their experience.

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Stephen Hansen was dressed up as a 17th-century royalist. He estimated he had already walked some 22,000 steps in his leather boots.

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“I’ve made friends in this queue — we’ve exchanged numbers, we’ve shared food … there’s a group of us who will meet up after this,” says 54-year-old Teresa Bhatti. “We’ve enjoyed every single second of it …

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