On the banks of London's Thames with royalists queuing early to see Queen Elizabeth II

Hardy mourners are determined to seize a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see late monarch's coffin

Vanessa, Anne and Grace, from left to right, wait opposite the Palace of Westminster to be first in line bidding farewell to Queen Elizabeth II in London, Tuesday, Sept.  13, 2022.  Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest reigning monarch, will lie in state at Westminster Palace from Wednesday.  (AP Photo / Emilio Morenatti)
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A former butler to Queen Elizabeth II, an African royal family member and a railway worker determined to make her next shift were among the first mourners to start queuing to see the monarch lying in state in London.

Avid royal fans began to arrive in South Bank on Monday morning — more than 50 hours before the late queen's coffin will be put on view in Westminster Hall in Parliament.

For many people who never had the chance to see the queen in person, either during a royal visit or perhaps receiving an award, filing past her coffin is a final opportunity to get close to her. And all they have to do is queue.

About a million people are expected to descend on the streets of central London to attend events surrounding the queen's death. These include the procession of her coffin from Buckingham Palace to Parliament, the six-day lying-in-state period and the funeral at Westminster Abbey. Queues are expected to stretch for miles and take up to 35 hours to reach the front once doors open.

Some mourners were determined to get right to the front of queues. After camping out on the banks of the Thames and waking up to the sunrise on Tuesday, mourners told The National they would not budge from their spots come rain, hail or storm.

“She gave us 70 years of service ― what’s a few hours?” Frank, 48, who was seventh in the row, said. “It’s not a long time.

“You get to be a part of history. It’s something you can look back on and say: 'I was there'. It’s a once-in-lifetime event. When events happen elsewhere across the world, we all look into [them]. When it happens in London, you’ve got to be part of it.”

“It will be surreal,” added the retail worker, as he pondered the moment when he would get close to the queen’s remains.

Vanessa, who is first in the queue to see the queen lying in state in Westminster Hall, said she was preparing for the emotional moment. The National

People will be allowed to pay their final respects to the late monarch when she lies in state in Westminster Hall from 5pm (8pm UAE) on Wednesday to 6.30am on Monday before her funeral.

A group of ladies, who have for years earnestly followed the queen and attended royal events, were the first to camp on the pavement on Monday.

“We miss her so much,” said Grace Gothard, as she sat on a foldable chair with a Union Jack flag draped around her to shield her from the morning chill.

“We’ve been sleeping here since last night. We want to come and pay our respects to the queen who sadly has left us.

“I am also from a royal family, from Ghana. My mum would be a princess. I would be a lady.

“It was a shock for everyone. As soon as I heard that she died on Thursday, I was at Buckingham Palace.”

Ms Gothard, from Mitcham, south London, was huddled with her friend and fellow royal watcher Vanessa, who secured first spot in the queue.

“I am very happy that I got this position,” Vanessa, an administrator, 56, said as she closely guarded her place. “I couldn’t believe that I am going to be the first person from the public to go in. It’s going to be an emotional moment.

“I started queueing up yesterday because we heard they might be controlling the crowds and they might stop people, so it’s better to come early.”

The two ladies were joined by their friend Anne Daly from Cardiff, who was proudly sporting a Welsh flag.

Sarah Langley, 55, dashed from work late on Monday to reach the queue just after midnight. The customer service ambassador at Chiltern Railway is determined to not let her work schedule prevent her from attending the once-in-a-lifetime event. She came prepared with a bag stuffed with a winter coat, warm boots, woolly hats, snacks and toilet roll.

“It was damp, I slept on the grass,” she said, after her first night sleeping rough. “The traffic was busy and the lights were quite bright. I think I got about three and a half hours' sleep.

Sarah Langley slept on the banks of the Thames to ensure she did not lose her spot in the queue to see the queen lying in state. The National

“I’ve come this early because I’ve got to be back at work at 6.20am on Thursday morning. I need to be near to the front of the queue because otherwise I won’t make it.

“I’ve come to pay my respects to the queen, a fantastic woman. She was the head of my church, the Church of England, and it’s really important to me.”

Bryan Tudor, 60, who was sixth in line on Tuesday morning, said he had never had the opportunity to meet the queen while she was alive.

His sister has for 30 years proudly showed off a framed photo of her meeting the queen's mother when she worked at a school she visited. The salesman arrived at 5am on Tuesday, prepared for the long haul with a flask of coffee and sandwiches.

Royal fan Bryan Tudor said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get close to the queen in death, having missed out on the chance to meet her while she was alive. The National

“I was always envious of somebody else in the family having that,” he said. “I will be psyching myself up for that moment.

“When I came down I expected to be in a long queue, way down. To be sixth, I’m shocked.”

Monica Farag, 61, was among the more well-prepared fans camping out in South Bank in central London, sporting a backpack stuffed with food, drinks and a warm blanket. A native of the Philippines who has lived in the UK for 36 years, she spoke of her desire to be around royalty.

“It’s never too late to be a queen,” she said, as she pointed to the slogan on her T-shirt which read “it’s never too late”.

“We have water, chocolate, pancakes and some blankets. We can order dinner by Uber Eats later.

“I will offer some prayers. I will remember her as a very hard-working lady and very dignified and sincere.”

Monica Farag was camping out in Southbank on Tuesday before the opening of the event in Parliament, which will see the queen lying in state. The National

Tony Jones, who previously worked as a butler at Royal Ascot, attending to guests the monarch had invited, was among those queueing on Monday.

“I worked for the queen, I was a freelance butler, I used to do the royal boxes for many years,” the Westminster native told the PA news agency.

“We’ve gone to the [Princess] Diana things and Prince Philip’s funeral, so I thought I’d come along and join in and pay my respects to the queen for the duty that she’s given to the country for all these years.”

On seeing the queen’s coffin, he added: “I think it will be a very emotional moment, you’ll have all the people there as well and the atmosphere of it all.

“At the moment, it’s a bit low key but as the crowds gather, it’s going to feel more emotional. It will build and build.”

Rehearsals for the procession of Queen Elizabeth's coffin in London - in pictures

Updated: September 14, 2022, 8:06 AM