‘She was our boss’: patience and camaraderie in queue to see Queen’s coffin | Queen Elizabeth II

When Queen Elizabeth II visited Malaysia in the early 1970s, Kaye Foong, then eight, was in the crowd waving. Nearly 15 years later, he was a lieutenant taking part in the sovereign’s parade.

“Hopefully today, I’ll go and give her my last salute,” said Foong, 60, patting his eyes dry with a crimson handkerchief.

The retired veteran was one of thousands in the queue early on Thursday morning. He joined a line snaking from Westminster Palace to Tower Bridge, eager to file past the Queen’s coffin.

Kaye Foong in the queue. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

The coffin will be on view in Westminster Hall 24 hours a day until the state funeral on Monday. The queue, with its own government tracker, continued to extend as midday approached.

While security guards warned passersby of the estimated 10-hour wait, people who had flocked from around the country came prepared, with pushchairs, canes and bags slung over their shoulders. The particularly well-equipped carried folded chairs.

Many passed the time befriending neighbours, reading books or standing in silence. Standing alone, Foon explained that every button on his navy blazer was in memory of a British monarch. Soon enough, one will be added for Elizabeth II.

“She was our boss,” he said. “It’s a very sad moment.”

The wait was “fine”, even “normal”, said Esther Alleyne, 76, who had left Middlesex at 6.30am. With hours of standing still to come, she said it would give her a chance to enjoy the scenery, a welcome respite from days spent rushing around.

“I think that the country is in for a rough time, especially with the economy, so we need some stability from King Charles and the government, and everyone has to just pull together,” said Alleyne, standing beneath the Tate Modern.

She recalled listening to the Queen’s coronation on the radio as a young girl with her mother and brother. But it was the Queen’s Christmas Day and Covid messages that had instilled in her the most hope.

Esther Alleyne said the Queen’s death could help unify the country. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

“This is a unifying thing, especially after Brexit, it’s good to have something to reflect and bring the country together again,” she said.

Further ahead, university students Daniel Haheu, 19, and Jacob Brett, 20, described witnessing the Queen’s lying in state as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay tribute to a stable figure that had seen the country through decades of turbulence.

“As an immigrant, the royal family is very looked up to, they’re very special abroad,” said Haheu, who is from Romania.

Haheu and Brett
Students Daniel Haheu (left) and Jacob Brett. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

“Because everything’s changing, she was the one stable thing in British society, and now she’s gone it just feels even more unstable,” added Brett, who had come from Greenwich prepared with juice, cereal bars and a phone charger.

For others such as Gurdip Virk, 68, it was a matter of carrying on, both in line and historically.

Born in Punjab, India, she has been a dedicated royalist throughout her 62 years in the UK. She stood waiting outside at 3am for Prince William and Kate’s wedding, and years earlier attended the funerals of the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales.

“She’s been a dedicated, a great monarch over the nation and the Commonwealth, and not ever intervened in political or other scenarios of the world,” said Virk, who had travelled from Coventry with her husband on Thursday morning. “She carried herself through right to the last minute.”

Margaret Partridge, 75, had come to London for the first time in five years to pay her respects. “I just have this calling to be there,” she said. “I feel privileged to be part of it.”

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