It is a moment for which Britain has been in solemn preparation for years. Multiple official agencies were brought together. Meticulous plans were secretly drawn up. Intricate logistical technicalities were ironed out. A route was carefully mapped out.
And no country’s population could have been better prepared for it.
We are talking, of course, about the queue which Britons must join in order to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II. This is not an ordinary line. It has taken on symbolic meaning, a ritual to be undertaken, an embodiment of the national mood. It is, in short, The Queue.
It snakes from Westminster Hall, where the late monarch’s body is lying in state, for miles along the south bank of the River Thames. It stretches past landmarks such as the London Eye (constructed at the turn of the millennium), the Royal Festival Hall (opened in 1951, the year before Princess Elizabeth’s accession to the throne) and the Globe theater (a throwback to a previous Elizabethan age). Plans are in place for it to be as long as nine miles, or 14.5 kilometers.
It may not be as fast-moving as another method of getting from one end of London to another, but it does share a moniker – the Elizabeth line.
In a quintessentially British fashion, an orderly line began to form outside the Palace of Westminster as soon as it was announced the late monarch would be lying in state at Westminster Hall on Monday – two days before the hall’s doors would open to public.
By Wednesday afternoon, The Queue became official, and up popped all the planned amenities. Portable toilets, water fountains and first-aid stations were dotted along the route and a bag drop was set up towards the front.
The Queue passes Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, of which the British monarch is Supreme Governor. The current incumbent, Justin Welby, came out to bestow a personal blessing on The Queue and all who were waiting in it on Wednesday, expressing a hope that they stayed warm and enjoyed each other’s company.
Each mourner is handed a special wristband indicating their position in The Queue, which is then inspected at various checkpoints along the route. In the unlikely event of someone attempting to jump The Queue, hundreds of police officers and marshals in high-vis vests are on hand to keep order.
To make The Queue as efficient as possible, the UK government has set up a live tracker that displays its current length and where the current end point – warning potential Queuers to prepared for a very, very long wait.
“You will need to stand for many hours, possibly overnight, with very little opportunity to sit down, as the queue will keep moving,” says the government’s official guide to The Queue – because of course there is such a document.
Cecilia Tyrrell, a 26-year old artist, came prepared for the long wait. “I got lots of food and I was going to bring an umbrella, but I’ve forgotten … I was preparing for 12 hours, that’s what they were saying on the news,” she told CNN.
By the time Tyrrell reached the Lambeth Bridge checkpoint, she had been waiting for three hours. “I thought it would be a lot longer,” she said, adding that she felt the occasion was worth the time. “I have the time to do it and it’s such a rare occasion, I just wanted to say thank you,” she said.
By Thursday afternoon, the line extended to more than four miles (seven kilometers), snaking all the way from the Palace of Westminster to Tower Bridge and beyond.
There was even a designated last-in-Queue person: A marshal equipped with big, black flag that reads “Lying-In-State, Queue Starts Here”. (Unlike the other advancing Queuers, this person is destined forever to move further away, never to reach that mythical destination, Front of the Queue.)
Southwark Park, which lies about six miles southeast from Westminster, has been designated the official End of the Queue. But just to be on the safe side, the authorities have set up barriers to form an additional three miles of zigzag line within the park.
On Friday, the entry to the queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state was paused due to capacity being reached, but later resumed.
While people came to pay their respects to the Queen, many admitted The Queue became its own experience.
“I am not particularly monarchist or royalist, but I wanted to join for the historical aspect, just to see what it’s all about, see everyone coming together,” Alice Hickson, a student, told CNN while standing near the end of The Queue near Tower Bridge.
Henri Hayler, a 33-year old financial assessment officer from Hastings said he enjoyed meeting other people in The Queue. Hayler told CNN he joined the line after arriving to London at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.
“We met the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was there too, I had a box of grapes and I offered him one and I said ‘oh they taste like candy floss’ and he took one and [said] ‘you’re a good salesman’ and I was like ‘thank you very much’, so little bit of banter with the Archbishop of Canterbury which was quite funny,” he added.
Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, where the Queen is lying in state, will remain open 24 hours a day until early on Monday morning and authorities are expected people will continue queuing until the very end.
By the time the wait is over, The Queue might well become one of the longest seen in Britain. It won’t be official though. Guinness World Records told CNN on Thursday it does not monitor a record title for the longest line.
CNN’s Sarah El Sirgany, Scott McLean, Arnaud Siad, Zahid Mahmood, Nada Bashir and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.