LONDON, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people, many of whom had camped out overnight, lined the route of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession on Monday and gathered in London’s parks to bid farewell to the only British monarch most have ever known.
Complete silence fell over Hyde Park as people who had been picnicking and chatting for hours, stood and watched the queen’s coffin brought to Westminster Abbey. Crowds are following the funeral service on large television screens or from a radio broadcast on loudspeakers.
“We wanted to come and see this historic event, to be part of it and to pay our respects to the queen and thank her for her long life of service. I think we’ll probably feel fairly emotional at the end,” said Alison Cornish, 66, from Ashford in Kent.
“Emotion is not something I try to exhibit, but I’m probably going to,” said her husband Robin, also 66.
The couple were waiting on the Mall, the grand ceremonial boulevard by Buckingham Palace, where the crowd stood 15-20 people deep already at 8:30 a.m, several hours before the start of the funeral. An hour later, all viewing areas in central London were declared full.
The best prepared had tents, flasks of tea, sandwiches and stepladders.
Ben Vega, 47, a nurse from the Philippines, stood at the back on a stool he had brought from home in west London.
“It’s a sad day for me. I’ve been here 20 years. I saw the queen as my second mum, England as my second home,” he said.
Melanie Odey, 60, a teacher, was at the front of the barriers along the Mall. She had camped in a tent with her two daughters and grandchildren after arriving on Sunday afternoon.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history, to pay your respects,” she said.
The queen “cared so much about this country”.
There was a remarkable cross-section of society out on the streets, of young and old. People have arrived in London from all over Britain and the world to witness the state funeral of the monarch, who died on Sept. 8 aged 96.
Some were silent and sombre, dressed in black. Others were more upbeat. A group of three women dressed in Union Jack hats sang “God Save the Queen”. A woman with dyed green hair and facial piercings stood next to a man wearing a morning suit.
CELEBRATION OF LIFE
Shelly Chugg and Anita Evans, colleagues at Cardiff Council, left Wales at 1:00 a.m. to travel to London.
“I wouldn’t have missed this,” said Chugg, 51, who recalled seeing the queen as a child in 1977 during her silver jubilee celebrations of 25 years on the throne.
“I was going to wear black, but it’s a celebration of the Queen’s life too, isn’t it? She liked to stand out in the crowd,” added Evans, 50, clad in white and green.
Anna Kathryn from Richmond, in southwest London, had never met or seen the queen. Yet she said her family felt they had a personal tie with her.
“It is like we have had a death in the family, we couldn’t miss this,” she said. “She was such a bright spot in everyone’s lives and now it feels like that light has gone out.”
Some in the crowd said they were surprised to find themselves compelled to mourn with strangers.
Alistair Campbell Binnings, 64, travelled from Norfolk. As he prepared to watch a funeral rich in traditional pageantry, he said there was something uniquely British about the spectacle.
“Only Britain puts on something like this on such a grand scale,” he said. “I wouldn’t normally come to royal events, but we are witnessing history. Today, this is the place to be.”
Katie Williams, a 43-year-old nurse, arrived in London on Sunday. Clutching flowers in one hand and with tissues up her sleeve, she called the queen the “granny to the nation”.
“She was a sort of magnet drawing people from all over the country. We all loved her, we all respected her.”
Towns and cities all over Britain are broadcasting the funeral on big screens.
In Scotland, retired debt adviser Dallas Carter, 71, watched with several hundred others by Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace.
“I thought there’d be more people here, but I guess they’re all at home watching it on telly,” she said.
About 33,000 people had filed past the queen’s coffin during the 24 hours it was at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. She died at her summer home, Balmoral, in Scotland.
Below are quotes from some in the crowds:
ALEXANDRA STEVENSON, 35, A NURSE FROM LONDON
“She’ been a around for so long that all of us have taken her for granted.
“I’m here because it’s part of history – like everybody else I think. We’ll get along alright, I think – this country is full of pragmatic people.”
VICKY McCONKEY, 70, FROM LONDON
“She’s been here all my life. I’m not particularly mad about the royal family but I like the queen.
“I wasn’t going to miss it, though – I had to be here.”
JOEL FESTENSTEIN, 28, BUSINESS RISK ANALYST FROM MANCHESTER
“I’ve been a long admirer of the Queen. I even went to her 80th birthday as a child when she was here in the palace. I wanted to be part of the final send-off.”
MARIO REID, VETERAN WHO SERVED 22 YEARS WITH THE ROYAL ENGINEERS, FROM KENT
“We call her the boss – I’ve just come to pay my respects for her.
“I got booted and suited up for this. Polished my shoes and everything.”
CRAIG CHAMBERS, 32, RAILWAY WORKER
“I’m from the Caribbean community and we celebrate a life rather than mourning – but we do it respectfully.
“I have a lot of respect for the years she’s reigned. I wanted to be a part of history.”
ALISON CORNISH, 66, FROM KENT
“We wanted to come and see this historic event, to be part of it and to pay our respects to the queen and thanks for her long life of service, and I think we’ll probably feel fairly emotional at the end of it.”
ABBY FOX, 32, WORKS IN RECRUITMENT, FROM ESSEX
“She feels like your nan – like you family. She was always there, always smiling.
“She’s just dedicated her whole life to the country, hasn’t she? And not asked for anything back.”
CAROL JOSEPH, 63, FROM LONDON
“She is just magnificent, she’s done such an impeccable reign with such dignity, such respect, she’s never had anything, any scandal against her and she deserves the respect. She’s our Queen, she is the UK.”
(Compiled by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Alex Richardson)