It’s the end of an era, no doubt about that. As if leaving my first job and Liz Truss becoming Prime Minister haven’t been big enough changes to kick off the month, the ultimate career change has just taken place over the past couple of weeks. It’s been beautiful, celebratory and moving, and has brought an enormous number of people together in grief, reflection and gratitude. So I felt it only right to pay my respects in this blog as well.
A Wonderful Life
The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was obviously going to happen eventually, swinging Operation London Bridge and related activities into action, and transferring the throne to King Charles III (although it feels strange to refer to him as King Charles now instead of just Prince). The occasion had been extensively planned for and rehearsed by the Royal Family, government, armed forces, security personnel, emergency services, transport organisations, the media, etc for many years – and that’s been readily apparent given how smoothly the events have flowed in the days since her passing.
So we all knew it would come, yet it was still a shock, given that The Queen had been photographed smiling and greeting Liz Truss just a couple of days beforehand. Sure, she was looking frail and had some bruising on her hand – but then she was 96, so that was normal. And there was nothing to suggest that the end was imminent, as we knew that she was still working as much as she could, and we knew she was receiving the highest quality medical care.
In a strange way it had felt like she was going to carry on forever, even though that was clearly impossible, because she had been such a constant and calming presence during her 70 years on the throne, which made her the longest-serving British monarch and the second longest in the world. That’s a record that won’t be surpassed for a very long time now, if ever. And for many people like myself she was the only monarch we’d ever known, so a world without her is hard to imagine.
Indeed, after her recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations, many people were hoping she would hang on another 4 years to see what would happen when she reached 100, following in the footsteps of her mother who reached that age. It was certainly a special moment when my Nan turned 100 in 2007 and got a card from the Queen, but for the monarch herself it would have been a very different celebration, as presumably she wouldn’t have sent a card to herself!
Incidentally, my family have had another Royal privilege in the past as well. When my mother was a young girl, she spent nearly a year in hospital with kidney trouble, and during that time she had the honour of a visit from the Queen Mother. So it’s really lovely that we still have a photo of that encounter, as it was a very special honour for all the young patients at the time.
Anyway, it was hoped that The Queen might follow in her mother’s footsteps and reach her centenary. But sadly it wasn’t to be after all. The death of her husband Prince Philip in April 2021 naturally hit her very hard, and may well have contributed to the decline in her health in the months since then. Catching Covid probably didn’t help either (and the nation had been grateful for her reassuring message earlier in the pandemic). Yet she continued to devote her time and service to the country and the Commonwealth whilst dealing with those hardships and other issues during the past year, and that’s further testament to the type of person we already knew she was. She was determined to fulfil the promise she had made on her 21st birthday to serve for her whole life, and she was true to her word right up to the end.
Whatever people’s views may be on the monarchy – and there are understandable opinions for and against that I’m not going to get into, as I’m no expert but clearly neither system is perfect – there is no denying the extremely high regard in which The Queen is held by millions. The response to her passing by the public has been immense, with huge crowds at every procession and event, applauding in celebration of The Queen’s life and achievements, supportively cheering on the new King and other members of the Royal Family, and engaging in moments of quiet reflection.
So it hasn’t been too depressing, and nor should it be. The Queen reigned with grace, dignity, decency, love and positivity for such an extraordinary length of time. And she had a wonderful sense of humour, as evidenced by her meetings with James Bond at the Olympics and Paddington Bear at this year’s Platinum Jubilee (the latter giving the perfect response to her passing on Twitter), along with other stories people have been recalling. So after such a busy and hard-working life, having been thrown into a role that she wasn’t originally expected to have in the first place, she’s more than earned the right to rest and be reunited with her beloved husband.
I think the TV coverage has been very well handled too, though I hadn’t expected anything less. The BBC were of course on the ball from the start, being our oldest and most experienced broadcaster. And Huw Edwards, who had extensively covered the journey of Liz Truss to Downing Street just a couple of days beforehand, deserves particular praise for being able to fill in for hours after the Queen’s deteriorating health was announced, while they awaited further updates from Buckingham Palace. And eventually, having prepared for this moment for some time, he had the solemn duty of delivering the official announcement of her death, where he struck exactly the right tone (as he did later on with the funeral and other events in between). It’s not just a matter of reading an autocue, it’s harder than it looks to get things across correctly in these exceptional circumstances, especially as you only get one shot during such an emotionally charged moment.
Fortunately, because viewers were focused on him, most of them didn’t notice the 2 people in the distance over Huw’s shoulder, out of focus in the newsroom, who for some unfathomable reason felt it appropriate to take selfies as a souvenir of the moment. You can see someone striding quickly over to them and getting them to sit down, and I’ll bet they got into a lot of trouble afterwards. To be fair though, that’s relatively unnoticeable until it’s pointed out, so it didn’t detract from the announcement. Whereas it seems poor Mary Nightingale on ITV wasn’t given the statement quickly enough, so she was left hesitating for a moment while her production team scrambled to get the text to her. She must have been very frustrated by that, but handled it as best she could. And it was still much better than the delivery given by some of the more obscure stations.
It is interesting to compare how the announcement was made by various TV channels and radio networks, as it is such a rare and historic moment. It’s also been nice to hear the sombre version of the BBC News countdown, which had previously been used after Prince Philip’s death. It’s a very effective variation of the music.
Over the 10-day mourning period since that announcement was made, I’ve also watched some of the overage of the processions, ceremonies, vigils, speeches, interviews, etc, and of course the magnificent State Funeral, either live as they were broadcast, or via recordings and highlights later on. It was all so beautifully, flawlessly and respectfully done, and it really sucked you in sometimes. I didn’t watch everything of course, as that would have been overkill, but it felt important and special to witness a few of the most significant and historic moments at least, as it’s such a unique spectacle.
And as there wasn’t audio description provided, I described things to my blind mother as best I could given my own sight restrictions. Some things were described a bit in the radio coverage, TV commentaries and online, but not extensively or wasn’t easy to find amongst the tidal wave of other information, and there were various details Mum wanted to know that she was only able to ascertain by asking me about them. And in that sense it also made it a lovely shared experience as we watched some of the events together. But, as difficult as I know live AD is to produce, I wish we had it for historic live events like this. Still, the BBC did provide sign language for the funeral, which was great.
I’ve also stayed away from Central London over the past couple of weeks, given how exceptionally busy it’s been. I know there were some accessibility arrangements in place, which were good to hear about, but I still didn’t fancy trying to travel on tightly packed public transport, navigate huge sprawling crowds, and queue up for ages on my own, all of which would have been difficult, in an attempt to get within a few feet of things I probably wouldn’t be able to see very well or for very long or even at all. I know from experience what London’s like when it gets super crowded and everybody clamours to see something!
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that being there and experiencing the atmosphere in person is incredibly special, even if you can’t see much, and I know that there’s been a community feel amongst the crowds that have gathered. So I’m delighted that people turned out in such huge numbers. King Charles and the Royals were clearly very grateful for that. And a huge shoutout to all the stewards, volunteers, security staff, emergency services, caterers and so on who have helped to look after so many people.
But, as respectful as I am of The Queen’s passing, I didn’t have a strong urge to go down there. And even if I had wanted to go, I didn’t know anyone with better eyesight who was going who I could tag along with. So it was just far simpler and safer to stay at home and watch things on TV, where I always had an excellent view, as well as looking closely at photos and videos and reading details online. I was perfectly happy to pay my respects that way, which I’m also doing by writing this blog post, so I don’t feel like I’ve missed out. And I did take some photos outside Buckingham Palace when I wandered around that area in April, as well as flying near it during my helicopter ride in May, so I can at least say I’ve been down that way this year.
For those who did go and pay their respects in person, the level of admiration for The Queen was of course most well illustrated with The Queue – the ultimate queue to beat all queues, which people joined for a variety of reasons to get a glimpse of The Queen Lying In State. The Queue was very well organised from what I could tell, and again the stewards and police deserve a lot of respect for that, as well as the people queuing for being so respectful to one another. It had a real community vibe, and it became such a fascinating attraction to outside observers like myself that there was even extensive news coverage and a Twitter hashtag purely about The Queue, focusing on the thousands of people coming together in mutual respect. I really wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are documentaries made about The Queue, and some kind of TV drama or rom-com movie about people meeting and forming relationships in The Queue.
After all, it took true determination and dedication to join a queue that spanned a distance of around 5 miles (though it was probably much more than that given the lengthy zig-zag sections), stretching across Lambeth Bridge and all the way down the South Bank to Southwark Park, in which you knew you could potentially be standing for up to 15 hours. The earliest arrivals waited for about 30 hours to ensure they got a spot at the front! Even David Beckham waited for 12 hours with everyone else, when he could easily have picked up a VIP pass and got in much earlier I’m sure, while other celebrities in the queue included comedian Tim Vine, singer James Blunt, Line Of Duty actor Daniel Mays, presenter Susanna Reid and Ozzy’s wife Sharon Osbourne. It’s highly admirable that they did that, well done to them.
But there were also journalists, broadcasters and photographers who were actively covering the event in the media, as well as other privileged people like politicians and VIPs, who had accreditation to pass through the hall separately to the main queue, and had additional permission to view proceedings from discreet platforms for set periods of time. So they weren’t taking any space away from the general public, and they were often a bit further away from the coffin than the public got to be. That didn’t stop social media going into meltdown over the only 2 people they recognised though (despite being ok with everyone else they were in the line with), as the mere perception of queue-jumping is a major sin to many in this country. Maybe it was a misjudgement by them and ITV but, even so, such is the ever-present irony and hypocrisy of social media that the people jumping on the bandwagon and calling for certain celebrities to be more respectful are being so vile and abusive themselves. It’s a strange world!
So I’m not bothered about them. Instead, I take issue with the people who went round twice. Not because I can’t comprehend why you’d want to put yourself through the exhaustion of that lengthy queue all over again, but because it means a few people will have been denied the opportunity of this exceptional once-in-a-lifetime experience, because their places were taken up by people who had already done it. That seems rather unfair to me, as much as I appreciate their emotional reasons for doing it.
That said, anyone who left it to the last minute to join the queue on Sunday, and were then disappointed when it finally closed, only really had themselves to blame, as it had been very clear that you were at real risk of missing out. In the days before the queue even started there were warnings about how busy it would be. Then the government set up an online tracker to tell you how the long the queue was and where the back of it could be found. And at one stage they even tried to stop the queue for several hours to manage the numbers – but that just led to people forming a second queue (aka the Queuey 2) to join the first queue (which could also be nicknamed the Elizabeth Line)! Then during Sunday morning they issued a warning that the queue would close, and that people shouldn’t travel to join it.
For those who had accessibility needs and couldn’t stand in a queue for that long, there was also a special, shorter queue on the North Bank, where you could go to Tate Britain and be given a dedicated time slot to return, which was a great idea. However, it does sound like they underestimated the number of people who would need it, as that also got very busy with some quite long waits, and they ended up having to close the access queue permanently midway through Saturday, as all the time slots for Sunday had already been allocated by then. But several people who did use the access queue were very happy with the experience, which was wonderful to hear.
There are accusations or assumptions that some people may have tried to get into the access queue unfairly, and maybe a few did try that, it wouldn’t surprise me. But other observers on social media have said that most people they saw deserved to be there, and many people genuinely do have hidden disabilities as well. So I don’t get the impression that too many fakers was the cause of the early closure, it was just the sheer numbers that they hadn’t bargained on.
But, again, that’s another reason I didn’t go down there, as it was obvious early on that it was going to be really busy. And, like I said earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the hall and have a close look at the coffin and the guards next to it, as you had to pass through fairly quickly, and at a bit of a distance from it.
Whereas on the BBC’s continuous live stream of the hall during the Lying-In-State, there were lots of wonderful close-ups of the flowers, crown and flag on top of the coffin. It was strangely absorbing to dip into the live stream every so often, as you got to watch people from all walks of life filing past and paying their respects in different ways. And to see the Queen’s children and grandchildren also taking vigil next to the coffin was particularly moving. Irrespective of their privileged positions, ultimately this is a family who have had to perform so many private acts of grief in public in recent days, and those vigils were arguably the most powerful. Not just because of the current situation, but because of painful memories of the past that will also have resurfaced, including Princess Diana’s untimely death and her funeral. Grief never has an expiration date, you just learn to accept and compartmentalise it as best you can, and even then it can sometimes overtake and overwhelm you.
And it was fascinating to watch the changing of the guards every 20 minutes as well – though I did feel sorry for the guard who collapsed on the first night! Standing in those positions isn’t as easy as it looks, and what an incredible honour it was for them to take those positions. Likewise for the thousands of personnel who took part in all of the processions and ceremonies, working with such impressive precision and sublime synchronicity. Even with all of the rehearsals, some taking place in the middle of the night, the pressure and privilege weighing on every single one of them is impossible to imagine. Every single event has passed without a hitch, and many thousands of people need to be congratulated for the planning and running of those.
So all in all, the Lying-In-State was one of the most poignant episodes of the past week, and The Queue felt like the most British thing ever. It was the perfect representation of the nation coming together in vast numbers to pay respects to our late monarch, and talking about it has added a respectful layer of much-needed light relief to proceedings. And from now on, whenever anyone refers to The Queue, we’ll all know what it means. It will forever be one of the most memorable aspects of this historic occasion, and rightly so.
So with all of that over and done with, and The Queen now laid to rest next to her husband, we start afresh with a new monarch for the first time in 70 years. Many things will change, yet others will stay the same, and it will be interesting to see how things evolve in this new period of history for the nation and the Commonwealth.
Very best wishes to King Charles III, for this major new role on which he embarks at such a difficult time. I have no doubt he will do Britain proud, as he always did as a Prince.
And Rest In Peace, Queen Elizabeth II. Your decency and legacy will forever live on in the hearts and memories of millions around the world.
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