LONDON – Thousands of people camped overnight in London to get the best spots for viewing Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession on Monday. The best prepared had tents, sleeping bags, blow up beds and flasks of tea.
Others were sitting or sleeping on the ground in only their jackets. One couple were seen asleep just in their clothes, their arms interlocked for warmth, and, perhaps, for comfort.
Melanie Odey, 60, a teacher, was at the front of the barriers along the Mall outside Buckingham Palace. She had camped overnight in a tent with two daughters and grandchildren after arriving on Sunday afternoon at 4.30pm local time.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history, to pay your respects,” she said with a pink scarf wrapped around her head.”The atmosphere is so unique. I had to come. It has definitely been worth it,” she said, adding that it was the least she could do to honour the late monarch.
“She has always been a big part of my life. She has always been there guiding us. She cared so much about this country.”
Odey said people in the queue were friendly and shared stories until about 11pm when some tried to sleep.
People continued to arrive throughout the night arriving by taxi or the extra trains put on to accommodate the crowds.
As people made their way to the procession route, some were silent and sombre, dressed in black. Others were more upbeat. A group of three women dressed in Union Jack hats sang “God Save the Queen” as they made their way to the route.
On the streets, there was a remarkable cross-section of society, of young and old. Some arrived in wheelchairs, others in pushchairs.
The crowd came from all over Britain, and the world. A woman with dyed green hair and facial piercings stood next to a man wearing a morning suit as they waited for the procession.
Anna Kathryn took a train at 3am from Richmond, in south west London in the hope of seeing the queen’s hearse. Like the majority in the crowd, she had never met or seen the queen. Yet she said her family felt they had a personal tie with her.
“It is like we have had a death in the family, we couldn’t miss this,” she said.
“She was such a bright spot in everyone’s lives and now it feels like that light has gone out.”
People on the way into London spoke of their motivations for being there ranging from a sense of taking part in history, expressing national pride and honouring a woman who had led Britain through so much change over the decades.
Some in the crowd said they were surprised to find themselves compelled to mourn with other strangers.
Alistair Campbell Binnings, 64, said he left his home in Norfolk at midnight, compelled to make his way to London.
“This is a one off. We would only be here for the queen. We just felt we had to be here.”
“She was what we always needed in a time of crisis.”
As he prepared to watch a funeral rich in traditional pageantry, he said there was something uniquely British about the spectacle.
“Only Britain puts on something like this on such a grand scale,” he said. “I wouldn’t normally come to royal events, but we are witnessing history. Today, this is the place to be.”
Katie Williams, a 43-year-old nurse, arrived in London on Sunday and made her way to the procession route in the middle of the night.
Clutching a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a packet of tissues up her sleeve, she called the queen the “granny to the nation”.
“She was a sort of magnet drawing people from all over the country. We all loved her, we all respected her.” – REUTERS