LONDON — For Christina Heerey, the last person in the miles-long queue to view Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin, it was so important to see the queen lying in state that she did it twice.
And then she did it all over again.
Queen Elizabeth II
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“It went really, really quickly, so I thought I’ll try to see if I can go around again, just to save the moment more,” she said Monday just before 7 a.m., after the viewing had ended.
Her two trips through the queue took her 14 hours — but she said it was worth it.
“The queue was amazing; both times I went round, it was amazing people out there. And all the people that helped out, they made it today, they were all very cheerful and tried to keep everybody’s spirits up, saying it’s not much further, it’s not much further. They were very good,” she said.
Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was laid out for public viewing for a little over four days inside Westminster Hall during what’s known as a lying-in-state period. Tens of thousands of people waited in line, at times for nearly 24 hours, to pay their respects to the sovereign ahead of her state funeral on Monday.
The line, affectionately dubbed “The Queue,” became an object of fascination both at home and abroad, with a dedicated government tracker and parody social media accounts. Celebrities, including soccer star David Beckham, joined the queue, while King Charles III and Prince William stopped by unexpectedly on Sunday to greet well-wishers.
At some point, the line got so long authorities had to temporarily close it.
Late Sunday, the British government’s culture department announced that the queue was at final capacity. Sky News captured the moment the last person was given a wristband to join the line as disappointed mourners were turned away.
Heerey, who said she met the queen a few times through her work at the air force, described her as a very special person.
“She was very inspiring as a female, she was very inspiring as a world leader, a mother, a grandmother,” she said. “There’s a side to her that the public don’t always see. From everything I see lately, she’s such a witty person, she’s an amazing lady.”
In the queue, strangers have become friends. Sima Mansouri, 55, was born in Iran, lived in the U.S. for 20 years and now is a Londoner. She spent the night walking with Heerey and was the second to the last person to see the queen’s coffin.
When she finally made it inside the hall, which is profoundly quiet, she said she bowed, and then didn’t want to leave, even as officials inside ushered people along.
“I just wanted to hold on, I kept turning around and looking back because we are not going to see her again,” she said. “It’s going to be hard not to see her, coming on the news, or seeing in newspapers, with her beautiful colors and smile and beautiful blue eyes.”
It was just after 6:30 a.m., and she had been up through the night, but she wasn’t planning on going home anytime soon. She was looking to find a good place to take in the funeral procession. “I’m still going, not going to stop until the last second; she didn’t stop.”
Catherine Read, 50, a historian, queued through the night with her 15-year-old daughter, Angelica. Read said there were ups and downs in the queue. At one point, they stopped moving for an hour, and “we almost froze on the bridge,” but on the upside, they made new friends, played various games to pass the time, and volunteers gave them blankets, tea and coffee.
Once they got to Westminster Hall, after 6 a.m., “the whole atmosphere changed; it’s very still and very quiet,” Angelica recalled.
Read described the scene with “the candles and light and guards standing in wonderful uniforms … it could have been a scene from 150 years ago, it was completely timeless and special, it was so beautifully done.”
“What did the queen mean to me? She combined a semi-mystical role that the crown plays in British society with admirable personable qualities. A really fortunate mix of position and responsibility, with a sense of duty and history. Spectacle without ego. These things don’t necessarily go together but lucky for us, with her, they did.”
The Reads stood in line with Ameen Ali, 33, who works in the civil service. He said that at first, he wasn’t sure whether he should come, but that “there was very much a feeling of missing out.” When the government queue tracker said the waiting time was only seven hours, “I put my jacket on, grabbed my bag and ran. It felt like the right thing to do, and I’m very happy I made that choice.”
“We didn’t know we would be the very last batch. It’s a surreal experience seeing the barriers behind us being removed as we were going ahead into the hall. We feel quite lucky to be in there.”
Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.