British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, who died at 96 on Sept. 8, after ruling for 70 years, received a lavish state funeral at Westminster Abbey in London, with as many as two million people lining the streets to see her cortege.
International dignitaries attending alongside the British royal family included President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden and all of the heads of the Commonwealth including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Indian President Droupadi Murmu and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Joining them was President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska and the presidents of Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy and Poland, among other representatives.
By 6 a.m., people were already filtering on to the Tube with bunches of supermarket flowers, Union Jacks and small step ladders and foldaway chairs in hand. On the Mall, leading up to Buckingham Palace, entire families were camped along either side, evidently unbothered by the early hour, only eager to catch a glimpse of the Queen’s final drive away from her London home, which was — at time of publication — still about five hours away. Despite the sombre occasion, the crowd was in high spirits, cheering every time guards on horseback hit the road.
As delegates began to pile into Westminister Abbey, Scott McLean, International Correspondent for CNN, spoke to Christina Heerey, the last person to see the Queen’s coffin before the Abbey closed its doors. Heerey had waited in line for hours and had paid respects already. But “since the line was quick, I thought to do it again.”
McLean observed that people lining streets by the Abbey were 6 to 9 people deep, and spoke with a woman who had spent hours waiting. She had met the Queen in 2012. “It was wonderful,” she recalled. “I was humbled; it was the best day of my life.” When asked what the Queen meant to her, she replied, “She represents fairness, equality and stability. That’s why it was appropriate for me to pay our last respects.”
Another woman had brought her young children in the hopes they would remember the historic event. She told McLean, “They might never have another Queen in their lifetime, so this was important.”
London resident Lorraine O’Connor queued up for 12 hours over the weekend to pay her respects to the Queen. “A group of us found each other that day and we’re going to stay in touch. It was a somber day but a lovely day,” she says of the lengthy line that made international headlines. Less than a day later, O’Connor felt compelled to attend the funeral in some way, too.
“I do like the Queen and the Royal Family but it’s mainly my mum who loved the royals. She passed away and I know she’d want me to be here,” the 52-year-old told Variety, which was on the ground at the Mall.
O’Connor was among thousands lined up along Pall Mall on Monday morning, but had managed to score a plum viewing position close to Buckingham Palace, where the procession was expected to pass around noon.
Lisa Dunne traveled into London from her home in Worcester over the weekend, and stayed in an Ealing hotel overnight before setting off around 4 a.m. on Monday morning to get a good spot for the funeral procession.
Why brave heaving crowds instead of watching the funeral leisurely from home? “You just get the general feel of it — the atmosphere and the camaraderie,” said Dunne, who came into town for the weddings of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and Prince William and Kate Middleton.
“Our family are royalists. [The Queen] has been there since I was born. We’ve just got a lot of respect for her — the utmost respect.”
Actor Felicity Kendal, best known for playing Barbara in “The Good Life” and Lady Eddison in “Doctor Who,” who was also friendly with the Queen’s late sister Princess Margaret, was interviewed on BBC News by Huw Edwards about her thoughts.
“Well today is very special, isn’t it?” Kendal said. “It’s a kind of day of thanksgiving and saying goodbye so today is particularly painful I suppose. But the last few days I’ve noticed that it has been an extraordinary combination of people from every walk, from every age, every race, every creed, every kind of family and there’s this collective need to go and pay respects to this most extraordinary of women and to just say thank you for the lessons, for the dignity, for the service that she promised as a young girl and she has fulfilled and it is a lesson to us all that we should take really to our hearts.”
Sebastian Coe, former Olympic medalist who was responsible for organizing the London 2012 Olympics — including the Queen’s iconic sketch with Daniel Craig, which opened the ceremony — was also interviewed by Edwards. “There isn’t a day that goes by without someone somewhere in the world [mentioning the Daniel Craig sketch] and a whole heap of people still believe she did jump from the helicopter,” he said.
“It was an extraordinary moment because Danny Boyle, who was our director, it was the only day throughout the 7-year period of [organizing] the Games when I did genuinely feel the glow wobbling. He came in and said, ‘We’ve done some market research and it shows the Queen and James Bond in that order are the iconic global figures [for Britain].’ And I was buying it right up to that moment until he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could get them to jump out of a helicopter together?’ And in fairness of course it was Danny that actually got it across the line, the great republican [anti-monarchist], who actually turned down a knighthood for his efforts in delivering the opening ceremony, sat with Her Majesty, and there are lots of things that are said about it, but actually it was Danny who persuaded her.”
“My first role was actually to take [Princess Anne] the Princess Royal through the creative thoughts,” Coe added. “I remember [showing her] these rather hammed-up drawings and showing her the helicopter and the only question I got at the end of it was, ‘What kind of helicopter?’ And I realized of course [Anne] knew everything about helicopters. She said, ‘Well of course you wouldn’t get a Chinook under Tower Bridge. You might get a Sea King and it would need to be a twin engine.’ Of all the questions I thought I’d get. But that’s how it started.”
On CNN, Queen Rania of Jordan recalled her own meetings with the Queen, revealing her advice. “She told me how important it is to always be there, to have that sense of duty, of discipline and to pay attention to the little details,” said Queen Rania. “To me, she was public service personified. She is a woman who pledged her life to the people for 70 years. “
Queen Rania added that the Queen brought a sense of togetherness, saying Her Majesty “was a unifying force in my lifetime.”
ITV interviewed Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party. “I had the privilege personally of meeting her a number of times when I was Director of Public Prosecutions. She was meeting senior civil servants to talk about the work that they were doing,” Starmer said. “The level of scrutiny – she wanted to understand what was going on. It was really quite incredible.”
“One of the times I met her, we’d just finished a major prosecution of a group of terrorists who wanted to blow up seven planes at the same time across the Atlantic, there was an incredible police operation coupled with prosecutors at the Crown Prosecution Service — she was so interested. It was never a formality — something that she felt she had to do,” Starmer added.
On the BBC, Andrew Lloyd Webber was interviewed by anchor Huw Edwards. “It is really a day where we all I think have to reflect on one of the most remarkable women than anybody will ever see,” the musical impresario told Edwards. “She represented stability at a time when there’s been so much change and I think the outpouring that we’ve seen in the last week — I’ve been in New York actually [over] the last week and it’s extraordinary how even there it has deeply, deeply touched people — all I can say is I feel very, very, very lucky and privileged to have actually met what appears to be the most remarkable woman of the last 50 years, 70 years, what more can one say.”
Lloyd Webber also reflected on his personal relationship with the Queen, whom he got to know over the years and even once invited to his home. “My first meeting would have been probably at various openings but I got to know her rather better when some years ago, well it would be for her 60th birthday, [the Queen’s youngest son] Prince Edward asked me if I would write a musical which was performed at Windsor which I wrote with Tim Rice,” Lloyd Webber said. “And that led to Edward coming and working in my company and over the years then I got to know her a little bit sort of off duty. She was always ‘The Queen’ but it was quite wonderful to have the occasional chat with her, sometimes the odd disagreement even. But one of the things I was quite amused about was that she didn’t share my love of Victorian architecture.
“She came to my home when we wanted to play her, informally, the song that I wrote with Gary Barlow which was called ‘Sing,'” Lloyd Webber added. “And we put together a choir of racing people because of course the Queen’s love of racing we all know. I won’t say it was the best choir that I’ve ever had but we put that together and sang the song for her and she was wonderfully generous about it and we performed one or two other songs, too. Because I knew she had a great love of Rodgers and Hammerstein from her childhood days so we did ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ and actually we did ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ which went very well sung by the wonderful Jessie Buckley. It was a great honor but it was a lovely evening.”
President Biden arrived at Westminster Abbey alongside the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Preceding him by a few minutes were the Queen’s crown carrier, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife Rose. Already seated were French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron as well as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his wife Saadiya Khan, who sat next to the Queen’s personal physician Professor Huw Thomas. It was Professor Thomas who is believed to have overseen the statement released by Buckingham Palace on Sept. 8, hours before the Queen’s death was announced, which first alerted the world that doctors were “concerned” for Her Majesty’s health.
Mark Drayford, the First Minister of Wales and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were also present, along with Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan.
An unbroken line of former British Prime Ministers also arrived in the order of their leadership accompanied by their spouses : Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major. The Prime Minister before John Major was Margaret Thatcher, who died in 2013.
During her reign, the Queen met 13 U.S. Presidents and 15 British Prime Ministers, the first of which was Winston Churchill and the last of which was Liz Truss, whom Her Majesty appointed just two days before her death.
Truss was the last of the British politicians to take her seat, a nod to her status as the current leader of the country.
King Charles III and his son Prince William, the Prince of Wales, left Buckingham Palace for Westminster Hall, where the Queen was lying in state since Wednesday evening. His Majesty, alongside other senior members of the Royal Family, oversaw the transfer of the Queen’s coffin from the Hall to Westminster Abbey across the square. As the motorcade drives through central London, the King received loud cheers, whoops and claps from the millions of people lining the streets.
King Charles and Prince William’s car was followed by a vehicle with Prince Harry and his cousin Peter Phillips (Princess Anne’s son).
The Queen’s other grandchildren then began to arrive at Westminster Abbey: Prince Andrew’s daughter Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and their spouses and Prince Edward’s children, 18-year-old Lady Louise Windsor and her 14-year-old brother James, Viscount Severn. They were preceded by the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent and his wife.
Camilla, Queen Consort arrived at Wesminster Abbey followed by Catherine, the Princess of Wales, and her children, 9-year-old Prince George, who is third in line to the throne, and his sister Princess Charlotte of Wales, age 7.
The Queen’s coffin, draped in the Royal Standard flag and topped with pink flowers and the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre, was transferred to a ceremonial gun carriage.
King Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Prince William, Prince Harry and Peter Philips walked in a procession of military personnel behind the gun carriage as it wound its way from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. The procession was accompanied by a military band.
The procession arrived at Westminster Abbey and the Queen’s coffin was taken inside by eight pallbearers as Big Ben struck every minute.
The Queen’s children, grandchildren and great-children followed behind along with spouses Camilla, Queen Consort; Catherine, Princess of Wales; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; and Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
The Queen’s coffin was placed on a catafalque within Westminster Abbey and her family took their seats. The service began with a bidding by Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster, followed by a brief silence.
The funeral began in earnest with an address (called a “lesson”) from Baroness Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, followed by a psalm specially composed by Judith Weir, an address from the U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss and a sermon by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
In front of Buckingham Palace, a live radio broadcast began sharply at 11 a.m. An incredible silence fell across the Mall, where many in the crowd had their heads bowed — some visibly moved to tears — as they listened along to the sermon. At around 11.30 a.m. guards began their formations down the Mall.
The buglers played the “Last Post” and a two minute silence was observed across the U.K.
The bagpipers played, signifying the end of the funeral service. The Queen’s coffin, back on the ceremonial gun carriage, left Westminster Abbey for Wellington Arch in a procession led by four horsemen from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“It’s a once in a lifetime chance,” said Natasha Butt, unfazed by her six-hour wait to see the procession outside Buckingham Palace. “At some points it went quickly, and other points it was a bit slow. It was worth the wait.”
The highlight, said the Brighton resident who was up before 4 a.m. to get to London, was seeing the Royal Family walking behind the casket, as well as the crown on top of the coffin.
Becky, who passed the hours alongside Butt and their respective families, said of the Queen: “I have a huge respect for her. She was a fantastic woman and did her job with such dedication and grace. She’s an amazing person to have representing our country.
“We will probably see Charles’s funeral, but I don’t think it will mean the same,” added Becky. “She was a young woman when she came to the throne, and she’s seen such transition and change through the country, and has done it with such grace. I don’t think Charles has the possibility of [doing that].”
The procession reached Wellington Arch and the Queen’s coffin was transferred from the gun carriage to a hearse.
After a rendition of “God Save the Queen,” the hearse began the final journey of the Queen, to Windsor, where she will be laid to rest, alongside Prince Philip. The hearse, accompanied by a phalanx of police motorcycle outriders, wound its way across the streets of London, to loud cheers from members of the public thronging the route. Several people threw flowers as the hearse passed them.