Scores of dignitaries at Elizabeth’s funeral, with record turnout at the lying-in state
LONDON – US President Joe Biden and Malaysia’s Yang-Dipertuan Agong (YDPA), King Abdullah of Pahang, are expected to pay their respects at Queen Elizabeth’s coffin in London on Sunday, joining hundreds of thousands of people who have filed past the late British monarch as she lies in state.
Biden an the YDPA will then join King Charles and a slew of other world leaders and royals from around the world for a reception ahead of Elizabeth’s state funeral on Monday.
Since Wednesday, Elizabeth’s body has been lying in state at the historic Westminster Hall, and people from all walks of life and all over the world have been filing past in a steady, emotional stream, with many queuing overnights.
“Her legacy will loom large in the pages of British history, and in the story of our world,” Biden said in a message following news of the queen’s death on Sept. 8 at the age of 96.
He was one of the 14 U.S. presidents of her reign, of which Elizabeth met all except Lyndon Johnson, starting with Harry Truman in 1951 when she was still a princess.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was seen curtsying to the coffin, are among dignitaries who have already paid their respects.
“The sheer silence of that space is one of the things that makes it so moving,” Arden said, adding that she had shared the moment with people who had queued for 20 hours or longer.
“The queen was here for her people and now her people are there for her,” she told the BBC on Sunday.
Britain has hosted a series of poignant, carefully choreographed ceremonies in the 10 days that have followed Elizabeth’s death, reflecting the traditions and pageantry of the British royal family whose lineage stretches back almost 1,000 years.
On Saturday evening, the queen’s eight grandchildren, including Charles’s sons Princes William and Harry, held a solemn vigil at her coffin’s side, following a similar observance by her children the previous day.
“She’s been part of our lives for ever. I’m 75 now and I can’t remember anyone except the queen being there,” Camilla said. “She’s got those wonderful blue eyes, that when she smiles they light up her whole face. I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable.”
A minute of national silence will be held at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Sunday.
The royals and the British government are now looking ahead to Monday’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens since William I in 1066.
London’s police force has described the ceremony as the biggest security operation it has ever undertaken. Members of the public were camping out to secure positions on the procession route.
Some 500 guests representing nearly 200 countries and territories will among those be attending – including presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and sultans – and huge crowds are expected to throng the streets.
Britain has not held a state funeral on the scale planned for the queen since that for World War Two leader Winston Churchill in 1965.
The government said big screens to watch the ceremony would be set up in Hyde Park in London and in cities across the country. The funeral will also be aired live by broadcasters.
Television ratings service Overnights.TV estimated that across the BBC and other channels carrying news, some 33 million people in Britain had tuned in on the day of her death.
Such has been the desire to pay tribute to the popular monarch, the only one most Britons have known since her accession in 1952, that tens of thousands have waited patiently in the line stretching alongside the River Thames to spend a few brief seconds at the side of her coffin.
“To think that everybody’s there for one person, to mark what she’s done for people and whatever way they felt she touched them or their country,” said Darren Luckhurst, a 49-year-old headteacher.
“Hats, gloves and I suppose camaraderie had helped him through the cold night,” he said.
A decision on closing entry to the line would be taken on Sunday, the government said. By the time her lying-in-state ends on Monday, as many as 750,000 may have filed past.
“She wouldn’t believe all this, she really wouldn’t,” Prince William said as he joined his father Charles, the new king, to speak to mourners waiting in line on Saturday. “It’s amazing.” – Reuters