Queen Elizabeth II viewing queue is very long – and very British

LONDON – This is the queue to end all queues.

The line to see Queen Elizabeth II lying in state stretched from Westminster Hall across the River Thames and then past the London Eye, Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. On Thursday evening, he reached Southwark Park in south-east London.

A government tracker on YouTube said Thursday night that it was nearly 5 miles long. That was an understatement, however. A government spokeswoman confirmed to the Washington Post that the distance measured was “as the crow flies” and did not include the labyrinthine zigzag section in the home stretch.

But the mourners were not deterred. Their beloved monarch has passed away and they are determined to honor him. If they have to wait eight hours? Ten o’clock? They would prefer as soon as possible, but they are fully committed.

After all, forming a queue is what the British do. Americans like to call it a “line”, but that word doesn’t quite encompass the almost sacred, rules-bound nature that the British have developed from waiting patiently behind someone to achieve a goal.

Asked to explain the concept of the British queue, Robin Wight, 78, launched into an impassioned speech.

“The queuing is something we have in Britain. … We are used to being obedient that way,” said Wight, who was about a five-minute walk – or more than two hours – from the front. “But this queue is unlike any other queue I’ve ever been in. Because everyone here is here for one purpose: to see the Queen.”

William and Harry walk behind Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin together

“If you go to Stansted Airport, you’re queuing for your holiday. Well, that’s fine,” he continued. “But here, it’s not a queue, it’s a magical moment that we all share together.”

When he finished, thousands of people around him clapped (politely).

This reporter joined the queue around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, meeting people who planned to stay up all night if they were to see the Queen’s coffin, which is in state – draped in the Imperial Standard and bearing the Imperial State Crown on a purple velvet pillow—until the funeral Monday morning.

I was quickly educated in the decorum of the queen’s queue. Get a bracelet with a number and obey that number. Stay in the queue. Do not push or jostle. Do not cut.

There was a rumor that someone, six winding rows ahead of us, had tried to jump the queue. But then someone else pointed out that this was unverified, as if to suggest that the very idea was slightly outrageous.

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Later it emerged lawmakers had been given passes to jump to the front of the queue with four guests of their choosing – which, unsurprisingly, caused a stir. “Revolutions were sparked by less”, wrote Tom Harris of the Telegraph.

For context: In a major Brexit speech in 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May called on Europeans in Britain queue jumpers. This was considered a serious insult.

People lined up for more than seven hours overnight to see Queen Elizabeth II in state at Westminster Hall on September 14. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Karla Adam/The Washington Post)

In line for the queen, people formed small families queuing. As the hours passed, they regrouped and offered comfort. They shared cookies and tea and, sometimes, stronger drinks. Strangers who would normally never talk to each other in public situations were suddenly fiercely loyal. If you needed to use the toilet, there were portable “toilets”; it was a well-planned queue, after all – so your family queuing held your place in the queue.

Everyone had a story about the Queen: times when they had seen her or met her or received a medal from her or had her as a patron. Investigations show that around a third of Britons have met or seen the Queen in person during her 70-year reign.

“The Queen personally put it around my neck. It was a magical moment,” Wight, the queuing philosopher, said of his Royal Victorian Order medal for raising millions for charity. “I really want to come and say goodbye to him, with all these people here. … I would stay here for 30 hours if I had to.

Hilary Beckley worked as a chef for Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, and Beckley’s husband Gary worked as a palace carpenter.

“We met through the royal family. We’ve been married 31 years,” Beckley, 61, said. “We couldn’t not come.

Of course, the Queen was not just head of state of the UK, but of 14 other countries — and head of the Commonwealth, which covers a third of the planet. His death sparked conflicting feelings in places marked by the legacy of British colonialism. And several Commonwealth realms are reassess their relationships with the crown.

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But Queen Elizabeth II also had fans around the world, with many explaining that they separated her as an individual from imperial rule. The queen queue is a testament to her international appeal.

The first three ladies came from Sri Lanka, Wales and Ghana. The Washington Post also interviewed people from India, Bangladesh, Ireland, Germany, Sierra Leone, United States, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, China, Australia , to name a few countries. They talked about her mostly scandal-free life, which made her a role model, and the scandalous life of her children, which made her appear human. They referred to his dedication to the country, sense of humorwork ethic, foreign travel, longevity.

Joyce Skeete, 74, a retired nurse, lived her adult life in London but was born and raised in Barbados, where she was a netball star. When she was 14, she was invited to have a meal with the queen, who was visiting one of her kingdoms. “She gave her whole life to this country and to all other countries,” she said. “I think for her, it’s worth the queue.”

The queen queue has become a thing in its own right. It’s not the “mother of all queues” – that title can be retired. It’s “The Queue”.

“I don’t particularly care about the Queen anyway. But the queue? The Queue is a triumph of Britishness. This is amazing,” one social media user wrote in a post that went viral. #QueueForTheQueen was trending on social media.

Another pointed out that “waiting lineis a beautiful word: “The real important letter, then four others waiting silently behind it in line.”

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For those of us who joined the queue on Wednesday night, it started out pretty well. We moved forward at a decent pace – offering a false sense of optimism as to how this would all play out. About four or five hours later, things started to look bleak as we reached the zigzag section, reminiscent of a bad day at the airport.

We learned that a royal guard standing next to the queen’s coffin fainted around 1am, putting everything on hold for a bit.

Then, finally, we were inside. After 7.5 hours of quiet chatter in the queue, the scene inside Westminster Hall was dramatically different.

Mourners entering the hall, with its cavernous hammerhead roof, were greeted with silence.

Still in an orderly file, we were guided past the queen’s coffin, on its raised platform, guarded by soldiers wearing bearskin caps. Some mourners bowed and curtsied or nodded or whispered “thank you.” Anyone inclined to linger was nudged by officials waving that it was time to leave.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere in there, the world around you stops and you’re in the moment,” Megan Foy, 35, said after leaving the room.

She was there with her husband and their 9-month-old daughter and said they ‘only’ waited in line for six hours, reaching the lobby around 2am. “We had to go around a bit because of the buggy situation,” she said. , referring to his stroller.

But for our part of the queue, the wait wasn’t quite over. A funeral rehearsal was underway in the early hours of the morning and no one was allowed through the area around Westminster while the soldier practiced his march.

And so, with everyone who had just left the room, we were back in another queue.

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