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Queen Elizabeth: Crowds watch as city bends to weight of royal family

Ahead of the procession from Buckingham Palace, the public stood, climbed and balanced precariously for a last look

Outside Downing Street, the day staff from the offices around Number 10 nipped through the security gates shortly before 2pm, the desks abandoned and the phones unanswered for the moments when the power streets of the metropolis downed tools and stood to attention. By then, the procession route, mapped and marked by metal railings and a heavy police presence, was lined with the public. The balconies along Whitehall were filled. The public stood on foldaway step ladders, they sat on the high balustrades, they balanced precariously between lampposts and pavement pillars. All for a last look.

At precisely 2.22pm, Queen Elizabeth’s casket, placed on a horse-drawn gun carriage, left Buckingham Palace. Sunshine had returned to the city. The new monarch, King Charles III, walked behind his mother’s coffin wearing military uniform, accompanied by Princess Anne, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew, who was not in uniform. Behind them walked Princes William and Harry — echoes of that forlorn boyhood walk behind their late mother Diana. Applause rippled along the route which took the cortege along the Mall, through Horse Guards Parade before the strait along Whitehall and into Westminster Hall. The procession was unhurried but nonetheless moving at a fair clip, under a hot sun, while the Scots Guards and Grenadier Guards played funeral march compositions by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Tens of thousands of camera phones caught the moment.

“The last time I took a photograph from here was Mrs T” a veteran snapper, perched on portable steps told those around him.

“It was supposed to slow down here — but it swooshed by.”


A full nine years have slipped by since Margaret Thatcher died. But prime ministers come and go: for the lifespan of the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom, this week has felt unique: the end of a figurehead who has featured clearly in the background of their lives.

“We couldn’t get to Edinburgh so I just booked some tickets on Sunday not knowing this was actually all happening today. So I’ve taken the girls out of school,” said Elizabeth Gawthorpe, who stood with her mum, Brenda Finan, and daughters Alice and Poppy just across from Westminster Hall. They had travelled from the West Yorkshire village of Ledsham and waited for several hours before the procession finally passed by them. It was the silence, quiet enough to hear the horse hooves between the strains of the brass instruments, which they found most affecting.

“The atmosphere ... everything went really quiet,” says Elizabeth.

“It was very dignified. Very emotional.”

Ledsham has just 30 houses. The entire village — 30 households — held a street party to celebrate the jubilee. The Gawthorpes use all royal celebrations as a reason to celebrate. Elizabeth met Prince Charles once, maybe 20 years ago, after fundraising efforts for a hospice. She’s optimistic that he can become a success as monarch and considers the gruelling litany of duties of the past few days, where the balance of grieving son and king has been tilted towards the latter.

“To a certain extent, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t”, Elizabeth Gawthorpe said.

“If they hadn’t gone around to all the nations, everybody would be saying, why haven’t they? And they have and people are asking, why aren’t they grieving? So I think after this they need to take a moment to be with their family.”

This being London, tourists — wide-eyed that their visit had coincided with such a momentous occasion — took their place along with the merely curious. What they saw was the machinery of the city — the metropolitan police, the transport workers — bending to the weight of influence of the royal family.

Inside Westminster Hall, prime minister Liz Truss took her place among a series of political figures. But the peculiar hold that this 96-year-old woman retains over her subjects meant that for the tens of thousands on the streets, everyone else was invisible. Eyes were glued to the casket, draped in the royal standard. When it was carried into the cool of the hall, the orb and scepter, commissioned for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, was placed on the casket.

Within an hour, the roads were reopened and the tube stations full. The emergency services tended to those few who had been overcome by the heat, the fatigue, by the day itself. The news channels reported that lines of mourners waiting to stand before the queen’s casket stretched for two miles as the evening fell.