LONDON – When Rachel Brading was a child she waited hours to see Queen Elizabeth II pass by her hometown in the midlands of England. Forty years later she was waiting again, one among a crowd of thousands hoping to catch one last glimpse of the late monarch's coffin before her burial.
With tears in her eyes, Brading, now in marketing, recalled how the queen had waved to her that day decades ago. On Tuesday, her coffin whizzed passed, heading toward Buckingham Palace, the queen's official London residence, in a blink of an eye. “It was surreal, just surreal,” she said.
Her daughter, Ella, said they had come and waited in the rain to witness history. “This is something I will tell my children about," she said.
The coffin will be taken by horse-drawn gun carriage Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state for four days before Monday’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Many are already queuing up to pay their last respects, erecting tents and preparing for many hours of waiting. Many thousands are expected.
Thousands have already come to the park adjacent to the palace to pay their respects with flowers and written notes for the queen. One read: “We have loved you, as you have loved us. Off to your next mission."
For Steven Bazell, it was a strange way to celebrate a birthday.
The accountant turned 43 the same day the queen's coffin was due to arrive to London. Instead of celebrating, he brought his four children to wait on the Mall, the grand processional route that leads toward the palace.
“I want my kids to understand their country," he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Bobby Cunsden, 31, held a large bouquet of flowers and waited for hours to say her final goodbyes to the late monarch. “She is the only queen I have ever known,” Cunsden said of Elizabeth whose rule spanned 70 years.
Marie Ward, 62, came from Australia to visit her grandchildren living in the U.K but stayed to mourn the queen. “I will always appreciate her gentle guidance," Ward, a nurse, said. “She's a grandma, and I am a grandma."
Despite the distance from most of English society, many in the crowd professed to feeling a strange familiarity with the royal family, knowing the innermost details of their lives.
Some gossiped about whether there had been a reconciliation between brothers Prince William and Harry, days after they had greeted the public outside Windsor Castle in a show of unity. Others begrudgingly accepted that King Charles III's wife, Camilla, now the queen consort, had managed to win over public opinion after the death of the nation's beloved Princess Diana.
“They are like part of our family,” said Ward.
The crowd was heavy with anticipation in the moments before the queen's hearse finally arrived at the palace after a long journey from Balmoral in Scotland. They cheered as the car drove past, with many crying out “God save the Queen!" and clapping.
Steve Watson, a police officer, was speechless in the moments that followed. “Blimey," was all he could muster.
“That was impressive. She was an impressive lady," he said.