On 8 September, the news came in that The Queen had died. Like many it was the news we knew would come, but the news none of us wanted to hear.
This week we heard that The Queen had passed away ‘quite suddenly’ from old age. She was a presence to the very end. Serving her country to the very end. This is my London story of what I experienced during this time.
I never thought I’d feel the way I did when Her Majesty died. Yet as London life froze in time, I began to share my London story on instagram. I realised I was definitely not alone. Messages came in from all over the world, thanking me for sharing my experiences.
I read so many personal stories from people I didn’t know. They made sharing this time feel even more special.
When the Queen died | How London reacted
London came into its own as people descended on the Palace and the Royal Parks. The crowds grew day by day, as did the flowers and tributes. That first night at Buckingham Palace was so strange. It began with the blue sky, and as the people came, so did the rain. It poured. Yet we all stood there in the sobering news and no-one left.
The idea for the floral tributes in Green Park and then Hyde Park was just exquisite. The sight of all those flowers, the smell… it will stay with those who were there forever. The notes, the drawings, the Paddington Bears, and the odd marmalade sandwich, the stillness. All for one extraordinary woman.
The glorious pageantry from her loyal armed forces, will be something we may never see again. It was so moving. The spirit of London during this time was unforgettable.
The kindness and thoughtfulness shown by police, volunteers and everyone to each other was extraordinary. They make lasting memories for everyone involved whether you were there or not. If I felt proud, my goodness it would have made our Queen glow with pride at her meticulous planning. She endorsed us with rainbows.
Why am I such a Royalist?
My grandfather was a naval doctor under the command of Lord Mountbatten in Malta, where they were stationed. Growing up Christmas Day was always centred around the Queen’s speech. As the National Anthem played on our small television set, we all stood to attention. My grandpa died 25 years ago, and every royal emotion he instilled in me burst out when she died.
This summer I have been so lucky to be working with Claridge’s and their archivist Kate Hudson. As their Royal Correspondent, we visited all the Royal Palaces for the Claridge’s August Sunday Stories. All in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee. My goodness how lucky we were to see the Royal exhibitions, as they have now closed.
The city celebrated that amazing weekend enriched with the ‘Paddington Bear’ moment. We saw our Queen in her element. On reflection, how lucky were we to share that time, to have that time. This is why I wanted to share with you ‘my own London story’. Because it has been an unimaginable 2022.
Returning to Buckingham Palace
I felt it was something I had to do. I arrived at Wellington Arch at 5pm and met a lovely lady called Annex; the first of many strangers I was to meet over the next few days.
Two hours later, the crowd had swelled and the rain began to fall again. Policemen became our friends as we all waited nervously for the hearse to pass us by.
As it passed, everyone fell silent, then a ripple of applause. We all said how incredible it was, but why? There was something else, we could actually see her coffin. It was the finest detail that the interior of the hearse had been lit from inside. She shone even in the rain, on a wet dark London night.
Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall
We watched as soldiers passed by saluting The Cenotaph, getting ready to greet their Commander in Chief. At 2.22pm, we were glued to our phones as the coffin left Buckingham Palace. We watched and waited patiently for the band to come through Horseguards and turn into Whitehall, followed by The Queen and the funeral procession.
The Queen lying-in-state | The Queue
When Westminster Hall opened at 5pm the queue had begun. 24hrs later, the queue tracker reported a 14hour wait. I was having such a restless night that I thought, why not?
Up and out of the house, my husband drove me just past Tower Bridge. It is 3am. At Shard London I find someone handing out wristbands. My queuing has begun… it is 03.27. We make such good progress that I think the queue tracker must be wrong. But no… Everyone slows down just past Tower Bridge with St Paul’s in sight. It is 04.08.
The Queue and making friends
At this point we introduce ourselves to each other. We have caught our breath and crawl slowly along Bankside. Past The Globe to The Tate, where the queue grinds to a halt. It is 05.14. News trickles back that Westminster Hall is closed for cleaning.
Standing in the cold is hard work as the sun comes up. It is 06.37. We gently jump up and down to keep warm, we begin to exchange stories about why we are here. Most importantly, we are searching out a hot cup of coffee. Thank you Tate.. never have I been happier to pay the new over inflated price for coffee. This obviously prompts the conversation about what to do when we need a loo stop!
The realisation kicks in at the 08.00 bells of St Paul’s. It means we have been standing here for 3hrs. By now we are so cold and conversations begin about how long we are here for. There is also talk about whether you would bow or curtsey once we get to Westminster Hall.
Suddenly there is movement, through a bottleneck at Blackfriars the queue has started to move. It is slow.. but frankly, any movement is better than standing still. Outside Sea Containers someone is offering free tea and coffee. That is the kindness of strangers.. It is 08.50. You get the drift now of how slow this is. Messages of encouragement start coming in from friends.
The National Theatre is in sight, it is 09.42 and they have opened their toilets to my joy. I am very grateful not to have to battle with a portaloo. The warmth of the heater drying my frozen hands is a godsend.
When you make friends in the middle of the night you can’t always remember what they look like. I come out of The National confronted by a moving queue, mostly dressed in black. I think I will never find my place. But my new friends are looking out for me and I spot a wave to say ‘here we are’. The warmth and camaraderie is amazing.
Getting to Westminster Hall
Londoners on their way to work look on in wonder. They can’t believe what they are seeing. Just as much as you can’t believe a queue is headlining the news. We have now started to practice our curtsey… is it right leg first or left?
It is 10.05 as we pass the London Eye. We can’t believe we are making such good progress. We are getting closer and volunteers patrol to keep us going. You cannot give up now.
We have ‘picked up’ Peter who had started off well ahead of the rest of us at midnight. At 75 was struggling to stay on his feet. We take it in turns to walk him ahead to find a bench. We then pick him up again as we pass by in the queue.
A friend arrives with a bag of food for Jo (new friend), as we are nearing the Memorial Wall. Jo had come up from Sussex, without thinking of food. A friend thought she could do with some sustenance on his way to work. How right he was and what a good friend.
The stillness at the Memorial Wall
We slowly file along the Memorial Wall, it is 10.50. A London landscape for COVID-19, it seems ironic that Her Majesty should be lying-in-state opposite this beautiful wall. A place that gives comfort to so many, to whom she had given comfort with these words;
“Better days will return, we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again”.
Lambeth Bridge is in sight. We really are getting closer. No giving up now, even though we have been on our feet for 8 hours. Tired, nervous, excited.. a mixture of emotions begin to take over. It is midday as we get onto the bridge. A friendly policemen tells us we probably have another 3hours to go. Our faces drop.
The Snake | Victoria Park
A snake-like line is the formation in Victoria Park. Weaving around media tents, security and a whole host of portaloos. It is also getting warmer. It is 12.30pm.
The Snake part one:
About 1 hour into The Snake a friend messages to say David Beckham is in the snake. We all look around feverishly, but no sighting of DB. Peter is flagging, tired and aching, yet an inspiration for us all not moan. I know if I sit down now, I won’t get up! Suddenly a sea of phones in the air as Beckham is spotted. Twitter confirms that he has been queuing with us all night, incognito.
The Snake part 2:
More winding. The clergy from Lambeth Palace stop for an uplifting conversation. It is 15.00. Someone had been saving their Haribo Sour Snakes. The irony was no lost on any of us as we gamely finished the lot.
The Snake part 3:
Security and Westminster Hall with the flag at half-mast are in touching distance. It is 15.15 Everyone is still very cheerful which makes all the difference. Suddenly I am not alone when I feel anxious, nervous and overwhelmed. We are experiencing a moment in British history and about to be become a part of it.
Over 10 hours on my feet doesn’t help as I curtsy. It feels like the most humbling moment of my life.
Memories are made, stories have been shared and history will write about this queue. It all makes me so proud to be British. I walk out of Westminster Hall into Parliament Square it is 16.05 and I feel so emotional. I’m utterly exhausted.
Her Majesty pledged her life to serve her country and honoured that to the very end. She was the constant we’ve all had in our lives, and that is why the loss felt so great. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that Christmas Day at 3pm will never be the same. It will forever be different.
The Queen in quotes:
“Thank you for everything” Paddington Bear June 2022
“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home” HM The Queen II
“She did it with such dedication because she wanted to make her father proud of her” Margaret Rhodes just before Her Majesty’s 90th birthday.
“To you she was your Queen, to us she was The Queen… to us all she would be with us forever.” President Macron September 2022
“Today we came together… with an abiding warmth in our hearts for all that she gave. If, as she once said “Grief is the price we pay for love..” the weight of our collective sorrow is testament to the depth of affection in which she is held. She made history, she was history. Queen Elizabeth II is gone, but she will surely never be forgotten” Kirsty Young BBC 18 September 2022