I hope you’re all well. This week I’ve been really reflective because of the events in the UK. The sad passing of our dear Queen Elizabeth II on September 8th knocked us from our core. For me personally, she’s the only Queen I’ve ever known. She’s always been there everywhere we look: on passports, stamps, money and postboxes. She’s come to feel like everyone’s grandmother. So one week ago, I joined the queue to see the Queen lying in state. I knew it was going to be an experience but I didn’t expect it to be like it was…
Midnight, Saturday 17th September, Southwark Park. After obsessively watching the live tracker all day, this was where the starting point was. There was a buzz and a sense of electricity in the air with everyone having their own reasons for this journey. All I know is, I felt an overwhelming sense of needing to be there, like it was the right thing to do. The queue constantly moves which isn’t so bad and at 2:41am we had obtained the elusive wristband. The view was equally as fitting!
In my foolishness, I hadn’t realised that the park was the queue to join The Queue so the journey hadn’t actually really begun. Regardless, considering I’d done a full day at work I was feeling positive and very much like the hashtag ‘let’sdothis’. I knew it was going to be hard so I made sure I spoke to every single marshal on route. I mean, those in the queue were constantly moving but they had to stand in the same spot, all night. They were very positive and smiley too which helped.
I love Tower Bridge but I saw this bridge for 4 hours of the wait time. It was freezing cold but thankfully blankets were being given out. Later I saw a news report saying they were from the fire brigade – so thank you for that! Regardless, this was the lowest point. When the cold gets into your bones and you question why you hate yourself so much to have done this. The queue quietened and increasingly looked crestfallen and beaten. I dread to think how I looked. I’d been up since 6am so approaching the 24 hour mark was something I’ve not done in a long time. But then, 6:30am, a miracle was performed: the sun was rising and a coffee cup was spotted. I’ve never experienced a mood shift so rapidly. People went off to find hot drinks, the queue was moving again. Onwards! 6:15am.
This is my favourite photos of the whole queue experience. The best thing was that we were moving again. Feeling buoyant, the hubbub of the queue was increasing now everyone was warm and filled with coffee (hot chocolate for me) and the can do attitude from the marshals meant that everyone felt better. Of course we can queue and keep going – it’s the British way after all! The next stop: The Globe. I cannot thank the staff enough here. They’d opened the toilet facilities for those of us in the queue. I nearly cried (exhausted, emotional, grateful tears) because they had soap and hot water. I can only imagine what we all looked like, but it gave the queue another boost.
We continued walking and queuing. I saw this now as a mission I needed to complete. I hadn’t lost the overwhelming pull towards the Queen but foolishly did wonder how on Earth I’d look when I got there. 11:24am (many hours later) we see the London Eye. Everyone outside of the queue is supportive of the queue. Strangers asking how you are, saying you can do this, helped. Kindness was at the core of the queue. 11:59am – Big Ben. Surely the end is in sight? I’d been in the queue for 12 hours at this point but the sun, the people and the pull was still keeping me going.
The Covid memorial wall generated another moment of hush. It was at this point that I too went quiet. I don’t think any of us realised quite what trauma Covid created for the world. The memorial means a lot to many people so I was thinking of them too. But then the queue stopped. If the cold of 4am was the worst part, the stopping of the queue came a close second. At this point, the world’s press were all standing there making me grumpy. How dare they look fresh and well slept. Irrational, but true. However, the stopping this time was for a very exciting reason. King Charles and Prince William had come to thank those who had queued overnight. It was incredible to be that close to royalty. You could see the pain and grief in their eyes. It was emotional to see them. But it gave the queue another boost to make it over Lambeth Bridge and to the other side where in Westminster Hall, the queen was waiting for us.
Still we progress. Over the bridge, through miles and miles of zig zag railings, excitement building because we are at the last part before Westminster Hall. We can see Westminster Hall, see the security tents. This. Is. It. And then silence. It’s very hard to describe the feeling inside Westminster Hall. It was like nothing else mattered. There she was, the coffin of the only queen many of us have ever known. The crown twinkled under the lights. The flowers stood proud. I had my moment next to her. I bowed my head, my thoughts between myself and her. I’ve never felt emotion like it. Silent tears, immense gratitude. I was proud that I did it. I stood for 15 and a half hours for this moment. I’d not slept for well over 30 hours. None of this mattered though. This woman gave her life to our service, it was the least I could do.
11 miles. 15.5 hours. One experience I will never forget. Thank you to the many many people from the queue, local businesses, police, marshals, strangers passing by and the staff guarding the queen. You’ve made the experience easier for those people in the queue. Once I’d left the hall, the lady at the gate said thank you. That’s still with me now and will be forever.