Excitement was evident among the thousands of people who joined the queue to see Queen Elizabeth II lying-in-state Friday morning.
The line was more than six miles long, with an estimated wait time of over 10 hours.
Little did everyone know; it would be several hours more than that.
After arriving from the U.S. just 24-hours prior, I joined the queue at 8:50 a.m. local time at Southwark Park with my mum, Rosa De-Kelly. My Aunt, Annie Bazan, also joined us, having arrived from Birmingham at 6:45 a.m.
We became quick friends with the roughly 10 people around us in the queue and got our first round of news: the queue had been temporarily paused for the next six hours. If our group had been just one hour behind, we wouldn’t have been to get in line. Thankfully, we were already committed.
Surprisingly, the first two or three hours flew by very quickly. Spirits were high and we learned there were people from all over the country: Bath, Manchester, Bedfordshire. We also spoke with police and security, noting that many of them had traveled from outside of London. Some police came as far as four hours, from Cornwall and Devon.
It wasn’t until around 1 p.m. that people became hungry, searching for food wherever they could. Many of the people in our group struggled to find sandwiches or proper food with sustenance. Everyone had prepared with water and plenty of snacks, but not a lot of meals??
Four hours into the experience, as everyone began to find food, most people were sitting whenever they got the opportunity. It wasn’t for another 2 hours that I finally had lunch. My mum and aunt had left the queue to go ahead and find a place to sit and rest. When we caught up to them, they had a margherita pizza waiting for me from Pizza Express.
Before I had the chance to eat my pizza, we reached our next big milestone. Finally, we had reached Tower Bridge where we were able to get our bright yellow wristbands to officially be allowed to see the Queen lying-in-state.
Daniel, who had brought his two young children, captured the moment with a simple phrase: “These wristbands are like a badge of honor.”
As we shuffled down the line, we started to make bets. What time did we think we would arrive at the end? Some said 5:30, 6:30 or 8. Only one of us ended up with the right estimate: sometime before midnight.
About 8 hours into our journey, we heard some shocking news that made us feel very grateful. The queue has been re-opened now, and the estimated wait time was over 24 hours long.
By this point, it was getting colder with strong gusts of winds forcing many of us to put on hats and coats. We were thankful to be 8 hours into the line instead of starting at the end of it.
We were closer to the City of London now and the tributes to the Queen were becoming more frequent and noticeable. There was more live music specifically to keep the dedicated crowd entertained. There were even members of a “Faith Team” who were there to give words of encouragement and guidance.
Another piece of exciting news: soccer star David Beckham had been in the queue with us. He had spoken to media after 12 hours in the line, sharing that he joined just a few hours ahead of our group at 2 a.m.
The sun began to go down and the atmosphere drastically changed. The weather was now dark, cold, and windy. People seemed to slow down in the line and the energy levels can only be described as committed but concerned. By now, many were concerned about how much longer we had left and had given up on our guessing game.
As we became friends with security staff to pass the time, we began to nervously ask them how much longer they thought it would be until the end. The answers were concerning: 2-3 hours. Despite the daunting estimates, the mentality had shifted to determination, with one woman saying, “we’ve made it this far, we have to see it through.”
When we finally crossed Lambeth Bridge and entered Westminster, we were 12 hours into our wait. One man with security staff told us we had 2.5 miles left. Many in our group couldn’t figure out the math and decided to just keep going without thinking about it anymore. Now that we were in the final stretch, people were moving with determination and motivation to complete what had become a mission. While the line was now moving at a faster pace, I started to feel jet lag. However, I too was now determined to finish and chose to ignore the nausea and take deep breaths instead.
We knew we must be close. Security staff and police began shouting over the chatter of the crowd about what was on the prohibited list for going inside Westminster Hall. Among the obvious items were sharp objects, larger backpacks, lighters, and more. But one of the unexpected items that had a lot of people upset was hand sanitizer. When asked, a security man said it wasn’t allowed because it was “flammable.”
While we anticipated going through airport-style security would take the longest, it was actually one of the quickest parts of the queue, taking less than 5 minutes. Just a few hundred feet from where we exited on the other side of security, we were at the doors of Westminster Hall.
We stepped inside and the mood changed instantly. It was now silent, somber, sorrowful.
As we entered, we were one of the lucky groups. Instead of the constant walking forward, we were at a standstill watching ahead while there was a guard change, with our eyes moving back and forth from the guards to the Queen’s coffin so beautifully placed in the center with the Imperial State Crown on top.
Finally, people started passing by the coffin again. Our group had been split into four lines moving past the Queen. Most bowed their heads, some bowed with a curtsy, some made the sign of the cross, others simply walked by in silence. I chose to curtsy, bow my head, and make the sign of the cross as tears came down my cheeks.
With one last look at the Queen, we left Westminster Hall and it was over.
After 14 hours on our feet and outdoors, we had paid our respects to the Queen and we were all in agreement: it was worth the wait.