The last 12 days for me have been, as I heard someone on BBC World News (a station that has been playing constantly in the background of almost everything I’ve been doing throughout) describe, a “sad highlight.”
I obviously did not look forward to Her Majesty’s passing, even though realistically I knew it was coming, and sooner rather than later. And yet, once events were set into motion, I found myself anticipating each procession, each service, each walkabout, each moment of pageantry and history that is associated with a royal funeral.
A royal funeral is, by necessity, extremely well planned out and organized. The Queen was involved in making the arrangements for “Operation London Bridge” herself. From the sad moment when the flag was lowered over…Windsor? Buckingham Palace? The day was such a blur, I don’t remember from where the camera was broadcasting…and Huw Edwards read the terrible announcement, the event was well-scripted.
I watched bits of the solemn procession from Balmoral to Edinburgh, where farmers honored The Queen with their tractors, riders mounted horses, and people threw flowers along the route. The moment the cars passed over the Queensferry Crossing, opened by Her Majesty just over five years previously, was unforgettable. So was the deep, respectful curtsey the Princess Royal offered the coffin as it passed into the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The service at St. Giles Cathedral was beautiful, and the Vigil of the Princes, led by a kilted King and including a woman, Princess Anne, for the first time, was deeply moving, as they kept guard over their mother.
The tributes that poured in from all over the world were lovely. The crowned heads of Europe recognized Queen Elizabeth II as a beloved family member, a mentor, and an inspiration. Messages came from around the Commonwealth that The Queen was so instrumental in building. Possibly the most touching moment for me was watching Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay tribute to “one of his favorite people,” and it hit me that he knew her not just as Prime Minister himself, but possibly dating back to when his farther was also Prime Minister of Canada.
His Majesty the King carried on through it all, visiting the four home countries with graciousness and warmth. There were further services in Northern Ireland and Wales that each had their own unique fingerprint. There were proclamations and speeches. There were walkabouts and memorial viewings by assorted members of the Royal Family, who took the time in spite of their deeply personal grief to offer kind words to the gathered crowds.
The final flight of Her Majesty to London was the most-tracked plane flight in history. The state hearse, which Her Majesty helped design, making its way through the gloomy, darkened streets of London, will live in my memory, the Royal Standard draped over the coffin illuminated against the dark of the hearse and the dark of the evening.
The procession of the coffin, topped with the Imperial State Crown, accompanied by military members, the Queen’s family, and musicians playing funeral marches punctuated by drumbeats and horse hooves, was stately. The service at Westminster Hall was brief, but deeply moving. And the lying-in-state was magnificent to behold…the respectful crowds, the Vigil of the Princes, and then for the first time, the Vigil of the Grandchildren, the silence punctuated only by the tapping that indicated the changing of the guard, who faithfully and constantly stood watch over Her Majesty.
The British people are known for their ability to queue, and they did themselves proud. The line for the lying-in-state was five miles long at one point; the wait upwards of a full day long. There was even a queue to enter the queue, and a dedicated weather forecast for queuing…possibly the most British moment ever. Famous former football player David Beckman waited 12 hours in a suit, even though he could have used his celebrity to skip the line. The crowds were respectful. Their determination to pay their respects, and the way they uncomplainingly “kept calm and carried on” while they waited patiently through cold temperatures and rain was laudable.
And then the day of the funeral. More processions, with countless members of the military, including sailors who pulled the gun carriage bearing the coffin. Bagpipe bands. The tolling of the church bells, the sounds of drumbeats and hoofbeats and more funeral marches. The lovely flowers from the King, including myrtle from a plant grown from a cutting from Her Majesty’s wedding bouquet. Beautiful music and hymns. The presence of so many crowned heads, who were also the Queen’s family. Meaningful Bible readings and prayers. A Gospel-filled sermon preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Last Post. The bagpiper’s lament. The Princess Royal saluting her brother the King before accompanying her mother one last time to Windsor…she stands tall among men. The Queen’s pony and corgis on the route to St. George’s Chapel. The removal of the Instruments of State to the high altar and the Lord Chamberlain breaking his staff of office. The Committal and final reading of the Styles and Titles of Queen Elizabeth II. It was a highly emotional day reminiscent of something from a bygone era; old traditions, ancient words, and pomp and ceremony associated only with royal weddings, funerals, and coronations. There was a beautiful timelessness to it all.
It was something I never wanted to see, but it is also something I never, ever want to forget.