LONDON — Thousands of police, hundreds of British troops and an army of officials made final preparations Sunday for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II — a spectacular display of national mourning that will also be the biggest gathering of world leaders for years.
U.S. President Joe Biden, along with other leaders from the world, flew into London to attend the funeral. Around 500 heads of state, royalty, and government officials have been invited.
As the dignitaries poured in, the clock was ticking down for those seeking a place in most massive queue any of them have ever seen to file past the queen’s coffin as it lies in state at Westminster Hall. The miles-long queue is expected to be closed to new arrivals later Sunday so that everyone in line can view the coffin before Monday morning, when it will be taken to Westminster Abbey for the queen’s funeral.
Families by families, thousands lined up round the clock to get in, despite freezing temperatures, and waiting up to 17 hours for their turn. The queue stretched over five miles (8 km)
The queen’s eight grandchildren, led by heir to the throne Prince William, circled the coffin and stood with their heads bowed during a silent vigil on Saturday evening.
Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand was one of the many foreign leaders present in London. She told BBC that she felt humbled by being able to attend the funeral for her country and witness the nation’s outpouring of grief.
“The thing that I will take away from this period is just the beauty of the public’s response, the kindness that you see from members of the public, the patience, the camaraderie, that has been, for me, the most moving tribute of all, has been the public response of the British people,” she said.
The U.K. will hold a national minute of silence on Sunday to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth, who passed away Sept. 8, at the age 96. After 70 years as heir apparent, the monarch was crowned in the U.K. Monday is now a public holiday. The funeral will broadcast live to an international audience and be screened in public places across the country.
Police officers from around the country will be on duty as part of the biggest one-day policing operation in London’s history.
On Sunday, crowds gathered near Windsor Castle to witness the royal burial.
“I think it’s been amazing,” said Anna Pettigrew, a 55-year-old teacher. “It’s been very emotional, and I think it’s been a very fitting tribute to a wonderful queen.”
Camilla, the new queen consort, paid tribute to the queen in a video message, saying the monarch “carved her own role” as a “solitary woman” on a world stage dominated by men.
“I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable,” said Camilla, who is married to King Charles III.
Prince Andrew also paid tribute to his mother, saying he would forever treasure “your love for a son, your compassion, your care, your confidence.”
“I will miss your insights, advice and humor,” he said in a statement addressed to “Mummy, Mother, Your Majesty.”
Andrew, the third of the queen’s four children, has been relieved of official royal duties and stripped of his honorary military titles over his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
After queen’s four children — Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — held a vigil around her coffin on Friday, on Saturday it was the grandchildren’s turn.
William and Prince Harry, Charles’ sons, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward — Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
William stood straight ahead, his head at the coffin’s head and Harry standing at Harry’s feet. Both princes were military veterans and were wearing uniforms. Slowly, the crowd filed past silently.
“You could see that they were thinking hard about their grandmother, the queen,” said Ian Mockett, a civil engineer from Oxford in southern England. “It was good to see them all together as a set of grandchildren given the things that have happened over the last few years.”
Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising their “beloved grannie.”
“We, like many, thought you’d be here forever. All of us miss you very much. We will miss you as our mother, guide and loving companion, as well your love for us all. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever,” the sisters wrote.
On Friday, a man pushed the coffin against the wall and briefly broke the silence at Westminster Hall. London police said Sunday that a 28-year-old London man, Muhammad Khan, has been charged with behavior intended to “cause alarm, harassment or distress.” He will appear in court on Monday.
The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the queen’s coffin will be moved on a gun carriage pulled by 142 Royal Navy ratings to nearby Westminster Abbey for the funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
After the service Monday at the abbey, the late queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on the state gun carriage. After the service at the abbey, it will travel in a hearse towards Windsor. There, she will be interred with her late husband Prince Philip who died last year.
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