Buckingham Palace quickly became the center of a nation mourning Queen Elizabeth II – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Ben Stansall
World leaders begin to gather in London from Saturday for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, as Princes William and Harry are set to lead her grandchildren’s vigil at her casket.
The death of the Queen on September 8 at the age of 96 after a record 70 years on the throne caused a storm of emotions.
Members of the public endured the wait, at one point estimated to be up to 24 hours and low nighttime temperatures, to see her coffin.
Lines have snaked along the River Thames since Wednesday, when her coffin was taken to the British Parliament complex to lie in state.
Police are preparing the largest security operation in UK history for Monday’s funeral, as hundreds of dignitaries, including US President Joe Biden, are expected to arrive at the scene.
The queen’s successor, King Charles III, will meet Saturday with the prime ministers of the Commonwealth realms – the 14 former colonies he now rules over, in addition to Britain.
From Australia and New Zealand to Canada, they officially proclaimed him their new ruler.
But Republican movements are gaining momentum, and efforts to keep them all in the royal court are likely to be a feature of his reign.
On Friday, Charles ended his first tour as monarch of the four countries of the United Kingdom with a visit to Wales in what has been dubbed “Spring Tide” to introduce him to his new role.
Large crowds in Cardiff chanted “God Save the King” as he shook hands with well-wishers after a multi-faith service at Llandaff Cathedral and Cardiff Castle.
Charles met Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, an avowedly Republican, and occasional boos erupted in the streets after the new monarch rushed to name his son William the new Prince of Wales.
But Drakeford said questions about the future of the monarchy were “a footnote to the dominant sentiments of the day.”
– “Surge of emotions” –
Back in London, Charles held a 15-minute vigil with his siblings – Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward – around their mother’s coffin on Friday night.
They stood with their eyes downcast and silent as members of the public passed by.
Andrew, stripped of his royal titles this year over a sexual harassment scandal, has been allowed to wear his military uniform once during his 11-day mourning period.
The Duke of York, as he is also known, flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.
The vigil will be repeated on Saturday evening by the Queen’s eight grandchildren, including the new heir to the throne, Prince William, and his estranged brother, Harry.
Harry, who served twice with the British Army in Afghanistan, has also reportedly received special permission to wear his military uniform, despite the fact that he is no longer a current member of the royal family.
The move turned out to be the latest olive branch offered to Harry by the royal family after he and his wife Meghan made allegations of racism in an interview from their new US home.
The personal grief of the Queen’s family was played out under the scrutiny of the international community.
But the Queen’s youngest son Edward said: “We were overwhelmed by the wave of emotions that swept over us, and the huge number of people who went out of their way to express their love, admiration and respect.”
– Beckham joins the queue –
The most striking manifestation of public respect for the queen was the huge queues of hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to say goodbye to her.
Officials warned on Friday that the expected waiting time in line exceeded 24 hours and briefly suspended reception when lines reached their limit.
Among those who paid their respects was former England captain turned fashion icon David Beckham, who took 12 hours to get to Westminster Hall.
“It’s very emotional and the silence and the feeling in the room is very hard to explain,” he told reporters after walking past the coffin.
“We are all here to thank Her Majesty for her kindness, care and support over the years.”
June Nayler, 76, a retired local government worker from Milton Keynes in central England, was not intimidated by the long wait she faced when she joined the end of the line at Southwark Park.
“Now I’m here and I’m going to go all the way – it’s my duty,” she told the AFP news agency.
“I’m just blown away by the crowd and the amount of people that are coming out.”
The public has until Monday morning to inspect the casket before the Queen is honored with the UK’s first state funeral in nearly six decades.
In a spectacular ceremony at Westminster Abbey, expected to be watched by millions around the world, 142 sailors pull the gun carriage with her lead-lined coffin.
More than 2,000 guests will attend, but the leaders of countries at war with the UK, such as Russia, Belarus and Afghanistan, have not been invited.
The memorial service at Windsor Castle will be followed by a private burial.