Following the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II, I along with the many thousands of others, I wanted to pay my respects to the only monarch we have ever known (unless you are 97 like my dear nan who will remember King George VI as well).
On Thursday 15th September I met my husband in London and we went to lay some flowers in Green Park. My husband, Dan, was telling me that his work friend had left work a bit early to get in the queue to view the Queen lying in state. His friend was texting him and the queue was moving along quite nicely, he said. My husband was saying how much he would like to do this and that we may be able to go now and get in the queue. It was now 6 or 7pm and by the time we got in the queue it would have been 8pm. We would miss the last train home, not to mention I had to take my son to school in the morning and Dan had to work so we gave it a miss, just laid our flowers, walked about, got a pizza and came home.
Dan was saying that he will travel up early Sunday morning to get in the queue instead. I was supposed to be going to my sisters on Saturday night, which always ends up being a late and messy evening; but I would have to give my sisters a miss as I can’t let Dan queue for all those hours by himself. I would also feel really guilty for not seeing the Queen and opting to go for drinks instead!
However, as the weekend came the queues got ridiculously long and we thought ‘we can’t queue for like 19 hours.’ Dan’s children were over as well as mine which would mean leaving them all day with no dinner or anything, although I am sure they would survive!
I did go to Jenny’s (my sister) on Saturday and true to form, stayed there till about 3.30am drinking wine, talking, dancing and putting the world to rights.
Sunday night came, about 7pm, and Dan and I were watching the people file past the coffin on TV (as we had done quite a lot over the past few days) and we were saying that if we go now we could make it, before they shut the queue. The queuing time was less now, about 8 hours, although it would still be quite a long night. We ummmed and arrghhed about it for a while and then said “let’s just do it.” We persuaded Dan’s children to come; David not particularly impressed with the idea, but give him his due, he came. We got changed, got some warm clothes, put a blanket and bottle of water in a ruck sack and took a quick walk to the train station. My husband had a row with some awful teenagers and then we got on the train! On the train I practised by courtesy a few times; do I put my back leg straight down behind or across? “Google it,” I said! Dan was just looking at me thinking, what the hell are you doing haha.
Luckily by now the queue was starting at London Bridge which was easy for us. We got off at London Bridge and there was the end of the queue! The queue time was now about 7 hours which was great, although it meant we would need to get an Uber home.
We queued to get our wristbands. Apparently at 8pm there was a minutes silence but there was no mention of this. After a short walk round the corner we were standing still. Then along come interviewers from the BBC and out of all the people in the queue, they asked us if we would mind being interviewed! We said we didn’t mind and they asked us why we were queuing etc. Dan said we had come to pay our respects and where we had travelled from etc. I explained that we were there because the Queen had reigned over us for 70 years, that she had worked so hard right to the very end. That she was an inspiration and that we could learn a lot from her. That she was a great leader and a great lady, and that we wanted to pay our respects. They asked if we had bought any provisions and I said, “a bottle of water!” It was all very embarrassing! I don’t know if they ever put us on TV as none of our friends saw us. Perhaps we weren’t very entertaining!
The walk from there was quite lovely. It stopped at times but it was generally moving. All the bridges and certain buildings were lit up in purple. It was very pretty.
Along the way, some Army volunteers said that the queue was moving really quickly and this is the fastest that they had seen it move, so we are in a really good position. We thought, this is great, we may be in the Halls by 1 or 2pm!
As we left in a hurry we had no food so along the way we picked up some hot chocolate, nuts and chocolate (about £22). Later on I bought a hot dog for £7.50 (most expensive hot dog ever) and Dan spent about £23 on a couple of bags of crisps, popcorn and some nuts!
My phone had hardly any battery as I had forgotten to charge it the night before so when I went to the toilet in a portaloo, I couldn’t use my torch and it was pitch black!
Just before St Thomas Hospital there was a big sign up saying ‘Queue time from here is 4-5 hours’. I thought that can’t be right, that must be from the other day and didn’t take a lot of notice of it as Westminster was round the corner. Little did I know that it would be another 5 hours! I think the not knowing was better as morale was good, and I don’t believe anybody else thought it would be that long either, as I heard others saying, “I think we’ll be in there by 1.47.” Bit precise but that is what he said!
This group of men and women having a wine and a beer asked this lone gentleman if he would like to join them. He said “I am fine thank you.” It was quite funny and they were all laughing about it.
We went past the Covid wall which is very beautiful, up and over Lambeth Bridge and back round into Victoria Tower Gardens where the zig zags begin. It is now 1am. The first set of zig zags moved really quickly. Not bad, we should be through by 2am which would be 6 hours. Much better than the 12, 13, 14 hours that others had experienced over the weekend.
However, this is where it all starts to go downhill. There is another set of zig zags, I don’t know how many but apparently there are 75 in total. I still wasn’t that worried as the first set of 10 or 15 zig zags had moved really quickly. However, the second ones did not! They went up and down, up and down, shuffling. My stepdaughter, Florence, 11, was now moaning that she could stand no longer, that she “literally can’t do this” and that “I need to sit down right now.” Oh dear, what are we to do? Dan gave her a piggy back for a while but piggy backs are very uncomfortable so this was up and down. We told her to sit down like some of the other kids in the middle of the rows while we carried on zig zagging, but she didn’t want to sit there on her own. David, 15, didn’t want to sit down. I think he was in cadet mode and was hell bent on getting the job done in the right way, bless him!
At 2am a member of staff came out and said that he is very sorry but the queue would not be moving for the next hour because they are doing rehearsals for the funeral! He said there would not be much queue after the rehearsals and that he could get us through by about 3am and to keep happy. Everybody cheered. Our hope of getting through the Halls at 2pm were not only fading fast, they had long gone. So now we had to sit/stand on the floor for the next hour doing absolutely nothing. Florence was quite pleased though, she wrapped herself in a blanket, laid down on the floor and went to sleep!
I chatted to a couple of girls in the next row for a bit. We moved down the row a bit and now we were by the portaloos. The sound of the doors banging open and shut was really starting to grate on me, I wanted to slam somebody’s head in it!
We could hear them doing the rehearsals, there was lots of cheering going on. Not sure what the cheering was about but it sounded like it was going well!
Anyway 3pm came, the queue starts moving again. We get Florence off the floor ha ha! Luckily she is very good at waking up and getting up so that bit was okay, although there was more moaning and a few tears to come.
We are now at zig zag number 4. We have to get to No. 1! Although where No. 1 is, it looks there are still a couple after that, don’t really understand that but hey ho! At the end of the zig zags a lovely volunteer lady asks Florence if she wants to lay on the grass with a couple of other kids; she didn’t. The volunteers were all very lovely handing out sweets along the way.
We can see after the zig zags there is another queue in front, single file, which is before you get to security. So near but yet so far!! We get to this queue and about half way along it just stops, for what seemed like half an hour. They tell us we have to throw all our food consumables away, creams and ointments; “oh no my nose spray, my eye cream!” I have had conjunctivitis for the last week and my poor eyes are red and sore. I decided to keep it and see what happened.
Police walked past, I don’t know why. We are all just left there in limbo, now 4.30am. When the queue is moving, no matter how long, people don’t mind, but the stopping and doing nothing is awful, especially in the middle of the night. People starting to moan saying “at least somebody could tell us what is going on.” On the whole, to be fair, everybody was so patient. We were all in this for the long haul, united, to see our Queen for the last time, no matter what it took.
Eventually we get moving again. We go round the corner to an airport style security check. We stand there for another 20 minutes. They seem to be letting people in blocks. There were people waiting on the other side of security go in. After a while they go through and then we get checked. They let me keep my eye cream and nose spray and said I didn’t need to chuck away my two packets of chewing gum – dammit! I do love my chewing gum!
It is now 5am. The important thing here is to forget about the long night and how irritable and groggy we feel as we have been in this queue for this moment upon us and we need to be fully present and in the moment.
We finally enter the Halls and are stopped at the top of the stairs while they change the guards. This is good as Dan likes watching the changing of the guards. After this it is deathly silent. We walk down the stairs, Florence first, then me, David and Dan. I wait my turn, stand in front of the coffin, courtesy and make the sign of the cross. I always wanted to courtesy in front of the Queen like you see little girls do on TV. Dan, David and Florence bowed. It was very beautiful and profound. We walked past and kept looking back to get once last glimpse of this beautiful sight. Outside, some staff were attending to the carriage that will carry the Queen in a couple of hours time. Shame we couldn’t stay up here and get to the front of the railings to view the procession but Dan has to work – that should be fun on no sleep!
We were going to get an Uber but the roads are closed and now it is 5am we may as well get the train. We walk to Charing Cross. We excitedly try to get a McDonalds breakfast but it is closed. When we get back Dan drives to McDonalds to try to get a breakfast again as everybody is starving (I went straight up to bed though). When I get up I say, “what happened to my breakfast?”. Dan said it was closed! Oh dear, I did feel for him, he was really looking forward to that, so were David and Florence. Not only that, he also has to work all day with no sleep.
Was it worth the wait? Yes it was. We were part of a historic occasion, we said thank you to our Queen for the years of dedication and service she put in and the queuing made it even more special, like we had put in a little bit of effort and dedication ourselves to give something back, and to say goodbye.
Did you queue? I would love to hear your stories.