The pilgrims who queued for hours for Queen and nation



As a soldier within the Royal Engineers, Laidley Nelson met Elizabeth II thrice. The second time she recognised him. “She mentioned, ‘Aren’t you that corporal?’ Her reminiscence was improbable. She didn’t speak right down to you.”

Nelson, 71, was in a fortunate minority. Most of these queueing alongside the river Thames final week had no direct expertise of the Queen they adored. Seeing her lying-in-state in Westminster Corridor could be the closest they got here to her. It was all they’d left.

The queue, which at instances snaked thus far that it had to be closed, will disappear fully early on Monday, with the lying-in-state as a consequence of finish at 6.30am. However it’s prone to endure within the collective reminiscence as a pilgrimage for a nation that doesn’t do pilgrimages, a religious interlude in a quickly secularising nation.

It helped present closure not simply to the Queen’s reign, but additionally to the Covid period when well being restrictions prevented shared expertise of grief, most visibly at Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.

Was it, as some mentioned, essentially the most British factor ever? At its peak, the queue grew to 4.9 miles and ready instances exceeded 24 hours. There was an unofficial queue to affix the queue. It was an appropriately delicate type of group frenzy: whereas many People had been as soon as swept up by QAnon, Britons merely queued on and on.

Former soldier Laidley Nelson, bears medals on his chest, in the queue
Laidley Nelson, 71, who met the queen thrice throughout his military service © Charlie Bibby/FT

Archive images of Prince Philip and the Queen on a screen
A big display set as much as present archive footage of the Queen’s life for these ready to pay their respects

But on the banks of the Thames, the queue usually felt un-British. It was not just like the gray, tight-lipped traces discovered exterior put up places of work and prepare stations. Individuals talked with strangers and swapped telephone numbers. “Would anybody like a fudge? Or a humbug?” somebody shouted close to Westminster Bridge.

After seeing the coffin in Westminster Corridor, queuers hugged one another farewell. “I don’t need to say see you subsequent time, however the world is admittedly small!” one girl mentioned to her companions of the previous 13 hours.

Certainly the queue’s enchantment was that it felt so not like the Britain of latest years: ungovernable, hurried, individualistic. “We’re passing by a extremely unhealthy patch — the energy crisis and so forth — however we should always by no means lose hope,” mentioned Kiran Patel, a hospital volunteer, who was born in Kenya the day after the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

The queue may very well be irreverent. Within the hours of ready, there was chatter in regards to the actual reason for the Queen’s demise (Buckingham Palace has not specified). There was unfold betting on how lengthy it will take to get in. Later some queuers bought their used wristbands on eBay, till the corporate banned them.

People in blankets in a queue just before dawn near Tower Bridge
Queuers within the early hours of Sunday morning close to Tower Bridge © Reuters

Queueing is an train in religion — religion that following the principles is enough, that the system will ship. There are alternate options. In 1952, a number of folks died in Argentina, as crowds crushed to see the physique of the late first woman Eva Perón. Britain has had its personal tragedies, however this queue — with its portaloos, and its civil servants and scouts repurposed at crowd marshals — impressed confidence and endurance.

Economists would determine the sunk value fallacy: after an hour’s ready, nobody was ready to give up. Psychologists noticed one thing else: folks with quite a lot of motives for queueing, some projecting their very own lives on to the Queen’s passing.

“At first, the processions had been the story. The group itself grew to become the story,” mentioned Stephen Reicher, a social psychologist on the College of St Andrews. And so folks’s “concern of lacking out” grew to become a significant motivation.

The queue was various: 60 per cent had been Stay voters, reflecting the predominance of Londoners, and 53 per cent voted Conservative, in response to polling by Rob Johns, a professor on the College of Essex. In a single part on Wednesday had been a grocery store checkout employee, a solicitor, an anti-immigration politician and a one-time Monetary Instances journalist.

The start of the queue system in Southwark Park
The beginning of the queue system in Southwark Park, nearly 5 miles and greater than 12 hours from Westminster Corridor © Getty Photographs

A woman clad in Union Jacks
Tales of the camaraderie between these ready to pay their respects have grow to be a big a part of the story © AFP/Getty Photographs

All queuers weren’t exactly equal: MPs may go to with out ready, together with 4 company every. However a way of truthful play took maintain. TV presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby had been accused of queue-jumping, though a press release mentioned that they’d visited “in knowledgeable capability”. In distinction ex-footballer David Beckham was praised for queueing 12 hours.

Why had been the folks prepared to attend to expertise what may very well be seen free on an web stream? By the Thames, the query rapidly flipped to: why not? “If I can’t give 12 hours of my life for somebody who’s given us 70 years, it’s a bit unhappy, isn’t it?” mentioned Amanda, a careworker from Folkestone.

It helped that information bulletins have talked of little else however the Queen’s funeral, offering blanket publicity not even granted to top-level soccer. The climate was additionally delicate. In distinction, George V and George VI died in winter: a number of the 305,000 who noticed the latter mendacity in state needed to put up with gentle snow.

There have been comparable moments in trendy Britain: the condolence books for Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997; the Queen Mom’s lying-in-state in 2002; and the platinum jubilee this summer season. However many queuers noticed this as a once-in-a-lifetime expertise. One girl, seven-months pregnant, was trying ahead to telling her child that he had been there.

Not everybody made it. Between Wednesday and Saturday, ambulance providers offered medical consideration to 1,078 queuers, 136 of whom had been taken to hospital.

Westminster Hall and lines of members of the public
The queue reaches its remaining vacation spot: a near-silent Westminster Corridor the place the Queen lies in state © Charlie Bibby/FT

Inside Westminster Corridor itself, what hit dwelling was the silence, disturbed solely by the sweeping of soles on the carpet and the click of an attendant totting up the numbers. Was it value it? “Oh sure. Oh goodness me,” mentioned Tim Wooden, an engineer on the inland waterways. Don’t ask if it was well worth the wait: it was the wait that made it value it.

In the meantime, round Parliament Sq. on Sunday, crowds had begun to reach for the following part of mourning: the procession of the Queen’s coffin. There have been tents, foldable chairs and a loudspeaker enjoying the soccer anthem Three Lions. Is there a reputation for these Britons who will do nearly something for a glimpse of monarchy? “Mad!” laughed one girl, who was herself getting ready to camp out.

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