Queen Elizabeth lying in state: mourners queue for hours to honour a 'strong woman'

Young and old, locals and tourists wait patiently along route snaking its way through the streets of London

An outdoor screen on the South Bank in London plays a film about Queen Elizabeth II's coronation as people stand in the queue to view the monarch lying in state. Getty
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Among the crowds of mourners wearing jeans and rainproof jackets on London's South Bank as they waited to visit Queen Elizabeth II lying in state, Jeanette Williams stood out for her old-school attire.

The self-declared lifelong royalist turned up in head-to-toe black complete with gloves and a hat, and as she prepared to cross Lambeth Bridge, the 72-year-old's coming meeting with the monarch was at the forefront of her mind.

“She treated you as if she knew you,” Ms Williams said, recalling meeting the queen when the monarch visited a school she worked at in 1994. “You felt comfortable in her company. She made you feel at ease.”

“The queen always looked her best so this is the least I can do,” she said, as she shuffled along the path with her daughter Nicola.

The pair rose at 4am to take an early train from Yorkshire and were pleased to find the atmosphere upon their arrival in the capital was “respectful”.

Years after being introduced to the monarch, Ms Williams would again see the sovereign at her next job at Eton College. The monarch would often visit her grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry while they studied at the all-boys school.

“I’m trying to contain myself,” Ms Williams admitted as she prepared to enter Westminster Hall to view the queen's coffin, remembering the “warmth” she displayed during their meeting.

“I remember watching the queen’s coronation as a little girl. I was only 3 and my father held me up in the crowd to see the TV. It is a special memory.”

Shirley Gillard, originally from France, left her baby at her home in Cambridge to travel to London with her 3-year-old daughter.

“I think it’s a good experience for her,” she said, gesturing to her child whom she named Elizabeth “because I just love the name”.

“She can always say she was here."

The long line of people snaking its way along South Bank was watched by doctors and nurses from St Thomas’ Hospital during their lunch break. The group, all wearing scrubs, looked on as the constant stream of people moved at a snail’s pace.

Some sipped hot drinks, others munched on sandwiches and some momentarily left their spots in the queue to read names on the National Covid Memorial Wall.

Angela Eze from west London said, having been raised by her Nigerian parents to admire the queen, standing in line for hours to pay her respects felt like “the natural thing to do”.

“I am a person of faith so I am always spiritually prepared,” she said.

People who have made the trip from outside of London took advantage of the afternoon sunshine to pose for selfies in front of Parliament.

Mother and daughter Serreen and Nouf Abdullah, visiting from Saudi Arabia, are among those to hark back to memories of Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

Ms Abdullah recalled how she brought her daughter, now 28, to Buckingham Palace to see the mountains of flowers left in honour of the young princess, a scene repeated last week following the queen’s death.

“The queen was a good for the people, everyone in Saudi Arabia liked her,” she said.

“She was a strong woman.

“Every summer we come to London and we always watched her on the news and there was always something new.”

Members of the London Fire Brigade cheerfully passed out free bottles of water to people in the queue and offered words of encouragement.

Wiling away the hours moving along the pathways, people resorted to reading books, newspapers and even tackling crosswords.

While most were wrapped up well amid the constant threat of rain, John Dodd stood out as one of the few men baring their legs in a kilt.

“My family were Scottish and as the queen died at Balmoral I made the effort to wear it,” he said. “Today I’m wearing the Ramsay kilt but my favourite is the Hamilton. I worked at a kilt shop in Kensington years ago and I learnt all about the different prints.”

Mr Dodd, 77, points to Westminster Bridge as he explains the different route he took to see Sir Winston Churchill lying in state in 1965.

The retired actor from south-west London is keen to point out his knowledge of the capital, having appeared alongside Warren Beatty in the 1981 film Reds, which was shot at locations in the capital, as well as acting alongside Michael Caine in the 1988 Jack the Ripper production.

Further down the line, the sound of bagpipes being played on Westminster Bridge grew louder.

Outside the British Film Institute, the crowds waiting to move forward were kept entertained by a giant screen showing dated black-and-white footage of the queen. One clip showed the young Princess Elizabeth posing with her beloved ponies while another showed her in a garden with her sister Princess Margaret and parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

“I’m here for my grandfather,” said Nadia, 45, who had been queuing for four hours. “He was from Mauritius and served in the British army.

“He was very proud to come to London and to live here. He loved the royals. We take after him.”

Echoing the words of many mourners waiting for their chance to visit the queen lying in state along a queue dotted with ice cream vans and food trucks, she said: “At the moment, it has not kicked in.

“I think when I am in there and I see the coffin, it will.”

First mourners pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II

First mourners pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II

Inside Westminster Hall, the atmosphere centred on grief.

The high-pitched squeals of a baby were all that pierced the heavy silence dominating the hall as sombre mourners bid farewell to the queen.

Reverberating up to the heights of the medieval venue and bouncing off the intricately carved wooden beams, the child's exuberant cries were in stark contrast to the feeble crying of so many around him, who bowed or genuflected as they passed the monarch’s coffin.

Although not yet old enough to walk, the little boy cradled by his mother was afforded a privilege reserved for none other in the room — the liberty to make as much noise as he wanted to.

Another baby who sucked on a dummy appeared oblivious to her surroundings as her mother carried her in a sling past the catafalque holding the coffin draped in the Royal Standard. The woman sobbed, her tears falling on her daughter’s hair as she kissed the back of her head.

Women held up wet tissues to their eyes in a bid to stop their mascara from running, while men, many bearing military medals on their suits, remained tight-lipped in a show of stoicism. Many glanced back to get one final look at the coffin before exiting through the giant doors.

It was hard to believe that some had been queuing for hours, with some ladies arriving in full make-up, elegant black dresses and high heels. One woman in bright red lipstick, a long black dress and matching stilettos struggled to keep her composure as she cried while making her way along the carpet away from the coffin being closely guarded by the queen’s guards.

Children and babies were few and far between in the two lines which passed on either side of the stand holding the remains of the queen the public had grown to love over seven decades.

People were stopped in their tracks during the changing of the guard, which happens every 20 minutes, with the faces of the younger members of the crowds showing fascination with the perfectly timed footsteps of the men.

A heavily pregnant woman led her young son by the hand as he looked up wide-eyed. The sparkles of the Imperial State Crown, which has more than 2,800 diamonds, and the colourful uniforms and giant swords of the queen’s guards were enough to keep the child momentarily entertained.

Queen Elizabeth II lying in state — in pictures

Updated: September 16, 2022, 8:30 AM