Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren hold a vigil around her casket ahead of her funeral – Copyright POOL/AFP Aaron Chown
On Sunday, the UK prepared for a landmark state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II as King Charles III prepared to receive world leaders and mourners lined up for the last 24 hours left to see her coffin.
The first members of the public have already set up camp in advance to catch a glimpse of Monday’s grand farewell at Westminster Abbey, which is expected to stop London and be watched by billions of viewers around the world.
US President Joe Biden flew in late Saturday night, one of dozens of heads of state to arrive as the UK conducts its largest police operation in history around the historic funeral of its longest-serving monarch.
The death of Queen Elizabeth at the age of 96 on September 8, after seven decades on the throne, sparked an uproar as hundreds of thousands flocked to see her coffin placed in the British Parliament.
Those who want to see the flag-adorned coffin have until 6:30 am (05:30 GMT) on Monday to reach the cavernous Westminster Hall.
Mourners have to wait until 25:00 as lines snake for miles along the River Thames. The entrance to the line looks like it will be closed at some point on Sunday.
IT professional Sean Mayo, 27, was among those relieved to make it to Westminster Hall after a 14-hour queue to pay their respects.
“It was incredibly emotional. She was like the grandmother of a nation,” he told AFP.
“We will all miss her.
Police said late Saturday night that the man, who was arrested after walking out of a line of people who walked past the coffin and approached the coffin on Friday, was charged with disorderly conduct.
Mohammed Khan, 28, from east London, has been charged with conduct designed to cause alarm, harassment or distress and will appear in a London court on Monday.
– Grandchildren are vigilant –
As mourners passed Saturday night, Prince William and his estranged younger brother Prince Harry led the Queen’s eight grandchildren in a 12-minute vigil around the casket.
Harry, who spent two tours with the British Army in Afghanistan, wore the uniform of the Blues and Royals cavalry regiment in which he served.
The move turned out to be the latest olive branch offered by Charles to his youngest son after Harry and his wife Meghan, now living in California, accused the royal family of racism.
Harry, 38, no longer employed by the royal family, has been stripped of his highest honorary military ranks. This vigil will be the only time he will be seen in military uniform at royal ceremonies.
The king and his eldest son William, the new heir to the throne, had previously surprised those in line on the banks of the Thames by taking an unplanned outing to shake hands and thank them for coming.
Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, the first in the UK since the death of her first Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1965, will take place on Monday at Westminster Abbey in London at 11:00 (10:00 GMT).
While the leaders of the European Union, France, Japan and many other countries will attend, the leaders of Russia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and North Korea were not invited.
Charles – the 73-year-old oldest monarch ever to ascend the throne – will host dozens of dignitaries, including Biden, at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Sunday night.
Leaders including New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Australian Republican Anthony Albanese and Canada’s Justin Trudeau – prime ministers of countries where Queen Elizabeth was head of state – paid their respects at Westminster Hall.
“At this time of great sorrow, we are grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the Queen for her services to duty, faith, family and the Commonwealth,” Albanese tweeted.
Trudeau said Queen Elizabeth “served her entire life and bore the weight of her duties with impeccable grace” after signing the book of condolences.
Biden was expected to arrive on Sunday to say goodbye to the monarch, who he said “defined an era.”
The influx of dignitaries – along with hundreds of thousands of mourners from across the UK and around the world – poses an extreme challenge for British police.
Over 2,000 officers were called in from across the country to help Scotland Yard.
After the funeral, the Queen’s coffin will be transported in the royal hearse to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a solemn service.
This will be followed by a family burial, in which the Queen will be interred along with her late husband Prince Philip, her parents and sister.
– “A good place” –
The UK will hold a moment of silence at 20:00 (19:00 GMT) on Sunday to reflect on the Queen’s “life and legacy” ahead of her funeral.
But some mourners have already begun to gather along the central London route to make sure they have a front row seat for her funeral procession.
The culmination of decades of careful planning: 142 sailors pull the gun carriage carrying the Queen’s lead-lined coffin.
“We wanted to have a good place to see the procession,” said Bill Parry, 59, a Royal Navy veteran, as he waited in camp chairs with two other ex-servicemen.
“It’s not too much to ask to sleep outside, considering everything the Queen has done for us: 70 years of service.”
The funeral will end 11 days of national mourning in the United Kingdom, as the royal family’s personal grief played out under international scrutiny.
Camilla, the new queen consort, was the latest royal to pay her respects as she remembered her mother-in-law’s smile and “beautiful blue eyes”.
“She has always been a part of our lives. Now I’m 75 and I can’t remember anyone other than the Queen who was there,” Camille said in a TV commentary.
“It must have been so hard for her to be a single woman” in a male-dominated world.
“There were no female prime ministers or presidents. She was the only one, so I think she cut her own role.”