By now, the news of the Queen’s death will have reached every last corner of the world. There may be a village of pygmies in the Congo Basin who don’t know – and there are likely to be many republicans who don’t care. But overall, it’s a moment in history we will all remember.
And I will always remember it differently because I am here.
We were in France when the news broke. The Parisians saw it as a reason to open another bottle of wine (“We will drink a toast to your Queen“, one waiter shouted to me, as an incentive for us to choose his restaurant for dinner).
The next day, back in London, the ocean of flowers had started gathering at Buckingham Palace, Union Jacks flew at half mast, and the eery silence of empty streets greeted us as we got a cab from the station. It was as though COVID had come back to haunt us. Where was everyone?
I have found it hard to read the news reports, and next to impossible to watch the endless TV coverage in the week since without welling up. The grief is palpable and contagious.
It’s also very British.
I expected the pomp and ceremony, the pronouncements of accession, God Save The King, and the official period of mourning.
What I didn’t expect was the genuine sorrow of the British people. I didn’t expect them to come in their hundreds of thousands, to queue for hours (even days, and increasingly colder nights), to keep queuing even when they were told not to, and to ignore the signs and announcements that it was too late for them to get into Westminster Hall to pay their respects.
They just kept coming.
The British know how to queue and they know how to say thank you.
Tomorrow the world will witness her funeral. The great majority of us will watch it on TV, while 2,000 world leaders and other invited elite will file into Westminster Abbey for front row seats.
But for me, the most poignant moments have already been and gone. Well over one million ordinary people will have filed past her coffin in the last four days, each one of them demonstrating the highest level of respect, gratitude and love for this remarkable woman. (To put it in perspective, when Winston Churchill and the Queen’s father, King George VI, died, they attracted just over 300,000 people each during their lying in state period.)
So, for anyone who thinks the Queen did a pretty splendid job in the face of every imaginable hurdle, tragedy and personal sacrifice for over seventy years – join the queue.
It’s the way we do it in England.