LONDON – Thousands of police, hundreds of British soldiers and an army of officials made final preparations Sunday for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II — a spectacular display of national mourning that will also be the largest gathering of world leaders for years.
US President Joe Biden and other world leaders flew to London for the funeralto which around 500 royalty, heads of state and government from around the world are invited.
As the dignitaries poured in, the clock ticked down for those seeking a place in the biggest queue any of them had ever seen to pass the Queen’s coffin as it is in Westminster Hall. The kilometer queue it is expected to be closed to new arrivals later on Sunday so that everyone in the queue can see the coffin before Monday morning when it will be taken to Westminster Abbey for the queen’s funeral.
Family by family, thousands of people continued to line up around the clock, braving cold nighttime temperatures and waits of up to 5 hours in a line that stretched more than 5 miles (8 kilometers).
The Queen’s eight grandchildren, led by the Crown Prince Prince Williamcircled the casket and stood with bowed heads during the silent vigil Saturday night.
Among the foreign leaders in London was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who told the BBC she was humbled to represent her nation at the funeral and witness the national outpouring of grief and respect for the late queen.
“The thing I will take from this period is just the beauty of the audience response, the kindness you see from members of the public, the patience, the camaraderie, that was for me the most touching tribute of all, was the public response of the British people.” she said.
People across the UK will pause on Sunday evening for a nationwide minute’s silence to honor the Queen, who died on September 8 aged 96 after 70 years on the throne. Monday has been declared a public holiday and the funeral will be broadcast to a huge television audience around the world and projected to crowds in parks and public spaces across the country.
Police officers from across the country will be on duty as part of the biggest one-day police operation in London’s history.
Crowds also gathered on Sunday near Windsor Castle, where the Queen will be laid to rest in a private family ceremony on Monday evening.
“I think it was amazing,” said Anna Pettigrew, a 55-year-old teacher. “It was very emotional and I think it was a very fitting tribute to a wonderful queen.”
Camel, the queen’s new wifepaid tribute to the Queen in a video message, saying the monarch had “carved her own role” as a “lone woman” on a male-dominated world stage.
“I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable,” said Camilla, who is married to King Charles III.
Prince Andrew also paid tribute to his mother, saying he would forever cherish “your love for a son, your compassion, your care, your confidence”.
“I will miss your insights, advice and humor,” he said in a statement addressed to “Mother, Mother, Your Majesty.”
Andrew, the third of the Queen’s four children, was relieved of official royal duties and stripped of his honorary military titles because of his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
After the Queen’s four children – Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward – held a vigil around her coffin on Friday, it was the grandchildren’s turn on Saturday.
William and Prince Harry, Charles’ sons, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and Prince Edward’s two children – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
William stood with his head bowed at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, were in uniform. The crowd continued to slowly, silently pass her by.
“You can see they think a lot about their grandmother, the Queen,” said Ian Mockett, a civil engineer from Oxford in southern England. “It was nice to see them all together as a set of grandchildren given the things that have happened in the last few years.”
Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising their “beloved grandmother”.
“We, like many, thought you would stay here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our back guiding us through this world. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever,” the sisters wrote.
The silence at Westminster Hall was briefly broken on Friday when a man lunged at the coffin. London police said on Sunday that a 28-year-old London man, Mohammed Khan, has been charged with conduct intended to “cause alarm, harassment or anxiety.” He will appear in court on Monday.
The funeral continues until early Monday morning, when the Queen’s coffin will be moved on a carriage pulled by 142 Royal Navy personnel to nearby Westminster Abbey for the funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
Following Monday’s service at the Abbey, the late Queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on the state carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the Queen will be buried alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.
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