LONDON – The first of the countless thousands expected to file past Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin in London began queueing two days in advance on Monday, driven by the wish to pay their respects.
One brought a newspaper showing pictures of herself meeting the late monarch, while another brought a pot of souvenir marmalade and a miniature cut-out image of the queen.
“I told my daughters I’m definitely going to pay my respects in person. I’m glad to wait in the queue, however long,” said Ms Vanessa Nanthakumaran, one of the first three people already waiting in the open air more than 48 hours in advance.
Queen Elizabeth’s coffin will be flown from Edinburgh to London to lie in state at the Palace of Westminster from Wednesday until the funeral on Sept 19.
The queue to file past the catafalque is expected to snake for several kilometres along the banks of the River Thames.
“It’s going to be emotional and I don’t know how I’ll feel going in there as the first one,” said Ms Nanthakumaran, a 56-year-old administration assistant originally from Sri Lanka.
“It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of this unique event,” she told AFP. “It’s our duty to say thank you. It’s going to be prayers from the heart. It’s going to be very sombre, quiet and overwhelming.”
The queue starts across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, where the British flag flies at half-mast from the Victoria Tower.
Camping is not allowed so Ms Nanthakumaran’s daughter is going to bring her a folding chair, some warm clothes and some food. “I’m not a great eater anyway,” she said.
Second in line was Ms Anne, 65, a former air stewardess from Cardiff, who sat in a folding chair wearing two Wales rugby tops and a Welsh flag across her knees.
“I was devastated. Shocked. In disbelief,” she said of the queen’s death. “She meant everything to us. She was our sovereign. We have to show our respect for the service she gave to our country.”
Ms Anne, who did not give her second name, brought royal memorabilia including books, magazines, photographs and a newspaper featuring her meeting Queen Elizabeth on her 90th birthday.
Portable toilets have already been laid out, with security teams and police officers milled around keeping an eye on proceedings, while bemused joggers weaved past on a muggy evening.
“It’s love. Real dedication,” said one veteran security man, surveilling the scene.
Third in line was Ms Anne’s friend Grace Gothard – a fellow veteran of long waits at royal events.
“I am a royal super-fan,” she admitted.
She brought a jar of marmalade bearing the image of Paddington Bear, and wore a scarf with British flag designs.
“It’s going to be sad and at the same time celebrating her life. It’s going to be different emotions for everyone going there,” said Ms Gothard, a carer for 22 years who is originally from Ghana, but now lives in south-west London.
“I will take it personally as if it was my mum lying down.
“She was a good woman. She loved everyone and everyone loved her. She was able to work to the last end. She’s done a good job. May she rest in peace,” she said, looking to the skies. AFP