All aboard the VIP shuttle bus as leaders travel together to queen's funeral

Tight security as kings, queens and presidents travel to Westminster Abbey

Guests arrive at Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London. AFP
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Queen Elizabeth funeral — follow the latest news as the world mourns

Denmark’s royals came in a four-car motorcade. Italian dignitaries rolled up in a Maserati. The king of Spain gave a regal wave to passers-by. But many of their majesties and eminences had to leave their luxury cars behind and sit together on a fleet of buses before the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II could begin.

The complex logistics of the funeral, the first for a British monarch in the age of modern air travel, mean the hundreds of VIPs in London cannot receive the full red-carpet treatment they would normally expect on a state visit.

After spending the night in embassies, the kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents were dropped off for their park and ride at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home for British soldiers dating back to the 17th century.

Shielded behind tinted windows, some of the arrivals were recognisable by their number plates — SPA 1N or 1 GER — or an Australian or Qatari flag on their bonnets, while others remained incognito in unmarked cars.

Bentleys and bodyguards are nothing unusual in London’s wealthy diplomatic quarter, but joggers and cyclists were kept behind a cordon and locals who live near the hospital had to be escorted home by stewards in orange vests.

As photographers swapped notes on who was arriving, a few locals stopped by to witness a small part of history. One Brazilian expat, Pedro, was waiting to see his country’s President Jair Bolsonaro arrive at the security cordon.

A few Chelsea Pensioners, as residents of the retirement home are known, made their way through the wide, empty streets in their distinctive red uniforms, joined by well-groomed mourners in veils and morning dress.

A fleet of buses alongside US President Joe Biden's motorcade on the approach to Westminster Abbey. AP

Some leaders took the unusual arrangements in good humour, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying she often ordered her ministers to travel by carpool.

A photo emerged of William Ruto, Kenya’s newly elected president, sharing the back of one shuttle bus with his fellow African representatives as leaders made the short journey to Westminster Abbey.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Britain’s organisation and said that although the funeral was hardly the place for politics, seeing other leaders again after the pandemic might at least inspire further meetings.

But some diplomats lobbied behind the scenes for an exemption from the coach trip, successfully in the case of US President Joe Biden, who arrived at the abbey in the armoured limousine nicknamed The Beast. But not all went smoothly for Mr Biden, as his car was caught in traffic outside a Pret a Manger cafe near Marble Arch.

Air Force One, his customised Boeing 747, was parked at London Stansted Airport as visitors to Britain arrived on Sunday, to the delight of schoolchildren on board another flight who spotted the presidential jet on the tarmac.

The Secret Service scouts out Mr Biden’s destinations before he arrives and security is upgraded when he does. The European Council met behind a tighter ring of steel than usual when the US president made a cameo visit in March.

Dealing with Mr Biden’s motorcade was only one part of the massive security operation put in place for the queen’s funeral, carefully planned for years in what was code-named Operation London Bridge.

Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II - in pictures

London’s Metropolitan Police described the funeral as the biggest operation of the force's 193-year history, posing a bigger challenge than riots, demonstrations, jubilees and three Olympic Games.

Police vans were drafted in from as far away as Scotland to boost numbers, while snipers were spotted on the roof of the Chelsea hospital and a building overlooking Parliament Square.

Another headache for diplomats is that the end of the mourning period coincides with the start of the UN General Assembly in New York, a date marked in leaders’ calendars since long before the queen died.

A number of countries squared this circle by sending a ceremonial head of state such as a king, queen, emperor or president to London, while a prime minister or chancellor headed to New York.

A select few of the guests were invited for face-to-face talks with Prime Minister Liz Truss during their trip to London, although a meeting with Mr Biden was postponed until they are both at the UN.

The others were offered a reception at Lancaster House with Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in a final nod to the mass of VIP guests before they return to home capitals where they need no longer share the limelight.

Updated: September 19, 2022, 3:11 PM