London – King Charles III and his siblings stood vigil by the coffin of their late mother Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, when tens of thousands of mourners queuing to pay their final respects during her lying in state were told they faced a wait of up to 24 hours.
Charles, Princess Anne, Princes Andrew and Edward, attired in military uniforms, stood in silence with their heads bowed for the 15-minute vigil at the historic Westminster Hall, where the coffin of the late monarch has been lying since Wednesday.
Most of the other members of the British royal family, including some of the queen’s great-grandchildren, watched from a gallery.
Tens of thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life have already filed past the coffin in a constant, solemn stream to pay tribute to the queen, who died on September 8 in Scotland at the age of 96 after a 70-year reign.
Despite the warning of how long it would take to reach the building, mourners continued to join a well-organised line that stretches along the south bank of the Thames then over the river to parliament’s Westminster Hall, knowing their wait may last through the night when temperatures were forecast to be cold.
“We have been overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us, and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect to such a very special and unique person,” Prince Edward, the queen’s youngest son, said in a statement.
Despite the warning of lengthy queues – repeated across local rail stations – people flooded into Southwark Park to join the line, many in high spirits.
In contrast, those who emerged from the Lying-In-State were quiet, reflective, and a little stiff.
Among their number was former England football captain David Beckham, who was wearing a dark suit and flat cap, and looked tearful as he waited to file past the coffin, having queued for more than 13 hours on his own, snacking on crisps, sweets and donuts.
“We were all here celebrating her majesty today, and it didn’t matter how long we were there,” Beckham said. “We were there for a reason. And everyone was together. It was a special few hours.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in London for the funeral, was another of those who visited Westminster Hall, stopping to curtsy as she filed past the coffin.
The oak casket stands on a purple-clad catafalque, draped in the Royal Standard and with the bejewelled Imperial State Crown placed on top.
Soldiers in ceremonial uniform and other officials are keeping vigil around it as people walk past to pay homage after their long wait.
Many have been in tears, and others have saluted or bowed their heads.
About 750 000 people in total are expected to file past the coffin ahead of the state funeral on Monday, when presidents, prime ministers, royalty and other world leaders are due to attend.
U.S. president Joe Biden, France president Emmanuel Macron, and the leaders of Australia, Canada and Jamaica will join the emperor of Japan among the congregation.
London’s police force said the funeral will be the biggest security operation it has ever undertaken.
The force has been preparing for possibilities ranging from terrorism threats to protests and crowd crushes, senior police official Stuart Cundy told reporters.