There’s an older couple performing a swing dance to pass the time, as others in the queue form an excited audience around them. They smile adoringly, clap enthusiastically, and shout out, “It’s like Strictly Come Dancing.”
Just four hours ago they didn’t know each other. In their normal worlds, their lives never would have crossed paths.
However, today they are spending hours together as they wait patiently in the queue to see the Queen laying-in-state, united in grief for Britain's longest-serving monarch.
Colin, 61, and Sue, 57 from Peterborough, take a break from showcasing their dance moves to tell me that they’re here because “the Queen was the heart of the nation.” Colin takes a pause before adding, “her smile lit up the world.”
Just a few metres down the line are Londoners Grace, 46 and her son Lachlan who proudly tells me that he is nine years old and has been granted special permission to stay up past his usual 8:30pm bedtime to see the Queen.
They have an enviable picnic selection from Tesco, and it’s clear from the orange remnants around Lachlan's mouth that he’s already been enjoying tucking into the treats. Grace made the decision to take him and his older sister Lily, 15, who’s popped off to get Starbucks refreshments, out of school for the day because, “I want them to remember this historical moment.”
Pharmacist Grace adds, “It has a personal sentimental value to me too as my grandma died at 96, and this has brought back so many memories of her. She was very loving and often united the whole family, like the Queen. It actually would have been her 100th birthday today.”
After eight hours of queueing and a quick security check, Grace made it inside the Palace of Westminster with her two children.
“It was a humbling experience," she tells me when we speak later. "We entered through a set of stairs and immediately saw the coffin from the high vantage point. When we got down, the coffin was surrounded by people bowing their heads, showing their utmost respect for the Queen. Nobody was rushed, and those who wanted extra time were granted it. It made me think about life and death, and how precious our time is.
“Lachlan was happy he got to see the changing of guards. He’ll be talking about that for a while!”
If there are two things British people are good at, it’s queues and making the best of situations. This is perfectly demonstrated by business partners Sally, 42, and Amy, 44 who run Party Cloud together and Sally’s neighbour Jan, who all travelled from Hampshire.
The three ladies have come prepared with camping chairs, a bottle of fizz and three plastic glasses so they can toast the queen. “We did have a bottle of wine too, but that leaked,” Jan informs me. “We don’t want too many though – we’d be crawling in!
“We needed to be here today. We’ve got so many awful things going on in the world, and this is really sad but she lived but it's also a celebration of her incredible life and there’s so much love for her. The Queen is something most of us can agree on.
“My dad taught Prince Charles and Prince Andrew in the Navy when he was an Officer. He only told me recently because he doesn't talk often about those days,” adds Sally.
“My husband is a serving officer. My son is in the royal navy so she’s their ‘boss’,” shares Jan, as she visibly becomes upset. “We’ve grown up with her. She’s been there my whole life. Sorry, I’m going to get emotional.”
Amy shares, “There’s a real camaraderie in the queue. We are all looking out for each other. The stewards are lovely too – they brought us all free water. The queuing is actually a joy as we’re getting to see so many London landmarks that we wouldn’t normally see.”
Later Sally tells me, “We were able to see the Queen at 7pm after just six hours of queuing. It was incredible, and just so beautiful. Each and every person got to stand in front of her alone for a couple of seconds to curtsey or bow their heads. It felt really special. All three of us were very emotional. It hit us quite hard. We came out to the sun shining.”
Jan adds, “We were in awe and it was amazing to get the opportunity to say goodbye. I was sobbing. We’ve been talking about it non-stop ever since and we’re so glad we made the effort. We were lucky that the weather was so beautiful. It felt like we were meant to be there.”
Later I meet Violeta, 71, and Imelda, 54 and a husband who she sometimes refers to as “our driver” who loiters in the background.
Violeta emotionally tells me that when she moved to the UK from the Philippines in 1974 she felt comforted by Queen Elizabeth II.
“She’s always been there. Every week when I’d go grocery shopping I’d see her face on the magazines, and then she was on pound notes and the TV. She felt constant, when my whole life had changed. My family always asks about her too, and when they visit me they want to go see royal family landmarks.”
This isn’t their first royal experience the pair went to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding together. “That was a lovely day out,” says Violeta.
Soon I find myself in the middle of a debate between a “queue family” – Christine and Archie who each came alone, and married couple Lisa and Simon. Their bond may only be hours long but they’re already doing pint runs for each other and arguing like siblings. “We’ll be here for 12 hours,” says Simon at 1pm. “No way, it’ll be way less than that. We’ll be done by 9pm” interjects Lisa. I join in and tell them it will be 11pm. They may have their disagreements, but they all nod when Simon says, "The Queen was an astounding woman.”
And Lisa was the closest – they got in before 7pm!
They are not the only ones who have quickly formed bonds – five women, two who arrived alone, gather around a laptop to watch the procession at 2:22pm.
A mum and her daughter – Rhona, 60 and Sarah, 35, who’ve travelled from South Wales (and did not want to be pictured as "we aren't looking our best"), bond with a London couple, both called Billy and in their 30s, over their love for the Queen. They listened to Rhona speak about working for Princess Anne, although she won’t reveal much apart from that she loved it. While Billy shared stories about seeing the Queen Mother laying-in-state when he was younger.
Others bond over sharing snacks, and toilet location tips.
Filling up the queue, which has now reached around five miles, are people from all over the world.
I chat to a mum Thelma, 81, and her two daughters Helen, 47 and Jenny, 45. She has passed on her love of the Queen to her children. There was no doubt in Helen’s mind that she wouldn’t be here despite now living in Brussels.
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Meanwhile author Gina, 60, and South African housewife Anna, 58, are two best friends who both live in London's Chiswick. They are proud royalists, with Gina regularly throwing parties in honour of the family where their cardboard cut-out of the Queen always makes an appearance.
“She was like my Grandma. She’s everyone’s Grandma,” says Anna.
“It wasn’t even a question whether we’d come when she died. It’s something we’ve always known we’d do together. She worked so hard in life, and she’s our example.”
“I got to meet her once,” says Gina fondly. “I was doing some fundraising for Cancer Research and I was invited in a group of 30 to meet her at Buckingham Palace. I was told not to hold my hand out, and to wait for her but of course I forgot. She politely shook it anyway. She chatted with me for quite a while. However, I was so overwhelmed I couldn't remember anything she said.”
Gina later tells me what it was like to see the Queen, “As soon as I walked into the church the atmosphere hit me. I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t stop when I saw the coffin. When we left the building, it all felt very surreal that I’d even been in there moments ago.”
I’ve never seen and met so many different people from so many different walks of life in one single queue. Whether you’re a royalist or not, it’s hard not to be moved by watching people be lovely to each other and coming together for one powerful reason.
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