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Home World News Washington Post World News The British like queues. The Queen’s death brought one for eternity.

The British like queues. The Queen’s death brought one for eternity.


LONDON — It’s the queue to end all queues.

The line to see Queen Elizabeth II in state stretched from Westminster Hall, across the River Thames and beyond, past the London Eye Ferris wheel and the Tate Modern museum and Tower Bridge. It even reached Southwark Park in South East London on Thursday evening.

A government tracker on YouTube said it was nearly 8 miles long on Thursday evening. That was a lie. A government spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post that the measured distance was “as the crow flies,” and did not include the labyrinthine zigzag portion of the home track.

But the mourners were not deterred. Their beloved monarch has passed away and they are determined to pay their respects. If they have to wait eight hours? Ten o’clock? They prefer sooner than later, but they are fully committed.

After all, queuing is what the British do. Americans like to call it a “rule,” but that word doesn’t quite encompass the almost sacred rule-bound nature the British have developed to wait patiently behind someone to accomplish a goal.

Asked to explain the concept of UK queues, Robin Wight, 78, gave a passionate speech.

“The queue is something we have in Britain… we’re used to being obedient in that way,” said Wight, who was about a five-minute walk — or more than two hours’ drive — from the front. “But this queue is unlike any other queue I’ve ever been in. Because everyone is here with one goal: to see the Queen.”

William and Harry walk behind Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin together

“When you go to Stansted Airport, you queue up for your vacation. Well, that’s fine,” he continued. “But this is not a queue here, this is a magical moment that we all share together.”

When he was done, thousands around him broke into (polite) applause.

This reporter joined the queue around 6pm on Wednesday evening and met people who planned to stay up all night to see the Queen’s coffin lying in state – draped in the Imperial Standard and with the Imperial State Crown on a purple velvet pillow—until the funeral on Monday morning.

I was quickly trained in the decorum of the queen queue. Buy a wristband with a number and obey that number. Stay in line. Do not push or slide. Do not cut.

There was a rumor that someone, six winding rows ahead of us, was trying to jump in line. But then someone else pointed out that this was unverified, as if to suggest that the idea itself was somewhat outrageous.

Closures for the Queen’s funeral are causing disruption across the UK

It was later revealed that lawmakers had been given passes to jump in front of the queue with four guests of their choice – which, unsurprisingly, caused a stir. “Revolutions have been fueled by less,” wrote Tom Harris of the Telegraph.

For context, in a major speech on Brexit in 2018, then Prime Minister Theresa May called on Europeans in Britain to queue up. That was considered a serious insult.

People waited more than seven hours in line to see Queen Elizabeth II in state at Westminster Hall on Sept. 14. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Karla Adam/The Washington Post)

In line for the queen, people formed small row families. Stretching out for hours, they joined together and offered comfort. They shared cookies and tea and sometimes stronger drinks. Strangers who would normally never talk to each other in public situations suddenly became immensely loyal. If you had to go to the toilet – there were portable “loos”, this was a well-planned queue after all – your waiting family would hold your place in the queue.

Everyone had a story about the queen: about the times they saw or met her or received a medal from her or had her as boss. Surveys show that about a third of Britons have personally met or seen the Queen during her 70-year reign.

“The Queen personally put this around my neck, it was a magical moment,” said Wight, the philosopher of queues, of his Royal Victorian Order medal for raising millions for charity. “I’d really like to come and say goodbye to her, with all those people here… I’d stay here for 30 hours if I had to.”

Hilary Beckley worked as a chef for Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, and her husband, Gary, worked as a palace carpenter.

“We got to know each other through the royal family. We’ve been married for 31 years,” said Beckley, 61. “We couldn’t not come.”

Of course, the Queen was not only head of state of the United Kingdom, but of 14 other countries – and head of the Commonwealth, which occupies a third of the planet. Her death has sparked conflicting feelings in places marked by the legacy of British colonialism. And several Commonwealth realms are rethinking their relationship with the crown.

Ghosts of the past haunt mourning queen in former British colonies

But Queen Elizabeth II also had fans around the world, with many people explaining that they separated her from Imperial rule as an individual. The queue in front of the Queen is a testament to her international appeal.

The first three ladies came from Sri Lanka, Wales and Ghana. The Washington Post also interviewed people from India, Bangladesh, Ireland, Germany, Sierra Leone, America, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, China, Australia – just to name a few countries. They talked about her largely scandal-free life, which made her a model, and the scandalous lives of her children, which made her seem human. She referred to her dedication to the country, sense of humor, work ethic, travel abroad, longevity.

Joyce Skeete, 74, a retired nurse, has lived her adult life in London but was born and raised in Barbados where she was a star football player. At the age of 14, she was invited to a meal with the Queen, who was visiting one of her realms. “She gave her whole life to this country and all the other countries,” she said. “I think it’s worth standing in line for her.”

The queen queue has become a thing of its own. This is not the “mother of all queues” – that title may be discontinued. This is “The Queue”.

“I don’t care about the Queen at all. But the queue? The Queue is a triumph of Britishness. It’s unbelievable,” wrote one social media user in a post that went viral. #QueueForTheQueen was trending on social media.

Another pointed out that queue is a fancy word: “The actual important letter, and then four more silently after it in a row.”

The Queen was incredibly funny, as James Bond and Paddington Bear discovered

For those of us queuing Wednesday night, it started well enough. We moved forward with a decent clip – with a false sense of optimism about how it would all turn out. About four or five hours later, things started to look bleak as we reached the zigzag section, which was reminiscent of a bad day at the airport.

We heard that a royal guard standing next to the queen’s coffin passed out around 1am and put everything on hold for a while.

Then we were finally inside. After a leisurely chat in line, the scene at Westminster Hall was very different.

The mourners who entered the hall, with its cavernous hammer-beam roof, were greeted with silence.

Still in the orderly line, we were led past the Queen’s casket, on the raised platform, guarded by soldiers in bearskin hats. Some mourners bowed and bowed or nodded or whispered ‘thank you’. Anyone inclined to linger was urged by officials to gesture that it was time to go.

“It’s a very different vibe in there, the world around you stops and you’re in the moment,” she said to Megan Foy, 35, after leaving the venue.

She was there with her husband and their 9-month-old daughter and said they had “only” queued for six hours and reached the hall around 2 a.m. “We had to walk around a bit because of the buggy situation,” she said referring to her stroller.

But for our part of the line, the wait was not quite over. In the wee hours of the morning, a funeral rehearsal was going on and no one was allowed to walk around the Westminster area while the soldier was marching.

And so we, along with everyone else who had just left the room, stood in line again.

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