London without the Queen is like Paddington without Marmalade – one is not well without the other.
There is visible shock and sadness among people as they attempt to navigate the capital without Her Majesty. For the majority of them, this is uncharted territory. They know no life without it.
From the moment you step off the tube, the immense love for Queen Elizabeth II is evident. Her photo appears in shop and cafe windows and a large riverside screen near the BFI Southbank Cinema plays images of her.
Read more: ‘Emotional and extremely lucky’ – What it’s like to see mourners walk past the Queen’s coffin as she lies
Patriotism also seems stronger than ever in the city.
People walk the streets in Union Jack hats, sweaters, dresses and ties. Many of them have large flags draped around their shoulders. They send the message that they are proud to be British.
Mourners have arrived in London from around the world to see the Queen in state at the Palace of Westminster. They are ready to wait for the best part of the day to have the opportunity to say a final goodbye.
Many are prepared for the long wait – some have brought camping chairs and others have packed picnics. For those who haven’t already, organizations have given out free bottled water and cups of tea and coffee.
Dozens of security guards watch the queue and St John’s Ambulance and the London Fire Department are both on hand to offer support. The queue stretches all the way along the bank of the Thames to Southwark Park.
Despite the sad occasion, there is a sense of unity. People spent hours with their neighbors in the queue, sharing stories and forming new friendships.
On Westminster Bridge, Gordon Raeburn played the national anthem on bagpipes. The 30-year-old busker, originally from Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Scotland but now living in London, said it was his way of paying tribute to the Queen.
He said: “It’s the national anthem, it’s something people really connect with at the moment. People seem to enjoy it. The Queen is for the whole UK and the bagpipes too. It’s a gathering.”
People of all ages, from babies to the elderly, lined up so they could walk past the Queen’s coffin and pay their respects. Parents took children, who will be too young to remember the event, to see Britain’s longest-serving monarch.
Vicky Oliver, 28, was queuing near the national Covid memorial wall on the river bank with her baby boy Archie. The part-time waitress, from Harlow, Essex, said: “She’s the Queen – she’s been there all my life! I want to be able to say to Archie ‘You went to see the Queen’.”
Those who made it to Westminster Hall, after hours of queuing, bowed, curtsied and used their hand to make a cross as they walked past the Queen’s coffin. Many of them were overwhelmed with emotion as they exited the building.
Joyce Ball, from Meriden, Warwickshire, donned her best clothes for the occasion. The 67-year-old was dressed all in black and wore a matching hat. The retired carer said she bowed when she came face to face with her coffin.
She said: “We were absolutely amazed. It was surreal and it was almost magical. We felt relaxed and at peace with her. She made people feel like she was the only one in the room and it was amazing. that’s what we felt with her.
“They looked perfect for 70 years, so I did my best today. I thought I could wear those heels for a day!”
Jane Devlin, 55, from Bushey, Hertfordshire, decided to wear her Union Jack dress to see the Queen lying in state with her 20-year-old son, Harrison Cox. She said: “I took out my black dress and thought I wouldn’t wear the Jubilee dress. It’s the dress I bought for Jubilee, we had a big party.
“I bowed, made the sign of the cross and said a little little prayer. It was amazing, I felt very proud. I’m just grateful for everything she has done for us. “
It was evident that even those not queuing to see Her Majesty in state were also affected by her death.
On Westminster Bridge, Pat Ekwueme Mason proudly showed a photo of his meeting with the Queen in Lewisham in 1996. The 70-year-old, originally from Nigeria but now living in London, said: “I told him ‘You you’re very pretty”. She was a charming woman. I cried when she died.”
During the procession in which the Queen was moved from Buckingham Palace to Westminster on Wednesday, police were forced to close the roads surrounding the road and put up 8ft green gates as the area was full . Officers told people to watch on TV.
However, that hasn’t stopped people from gathering near Westminster Bridge to listen to the chimes of Big Ben. Some were so desperate to get a glimpse of what was going on that they climbed over lampposts and statues.
People in Britain and beyond are desperate to be part of this unique moment in history.