King and Prince of Wales greet mourners queueing to see Queen lying in state

Charles and William make a surprise visit to those braving a long, cold wait to reach Westminster Hall

The King and the Prince of Wales have made a surprise visit to greet mourners in the queue for the Queen’s lying in state.

Hundreds of people waiting at Lambeth, south London, cheered and applauded as Charles and William arrived.

Many took photographs and pressed against the metal barriers, while some shouted “God save the King” and “God save the Prince of Wales”.

Several people telephoned their friends and relatives to tell them what they had just witnessed.

William could be heard discussing how long people had waited and whether they were able to keep warm. Several people cried after meeting him, and one woman told him: “You’ll be a brilliant king one day.”

Charles left before William, both of them in cars surrounded by police vehicles.

Earlier, undeterred by warnings of 24-hour waiting times, single-digit temperatures or a chilly breeze coming off the Thames, thousands of people continued to join the queue through central London overnight to ensure that they saw the Queen’s coffin before Monday’s state funeral.

At 8am on Saturday, the government said the time to reach Westminster Hall, where the Queen is lying in state, from Southwark Park, where the queue begins, was “at least 24 hours” and the accessible queue was closed until midday. Two hours later the main queue had reduced slightly, but estimates were still at 16 hours.

At 9am, after a night when temperatures in Westminster dropped to 5C, hundreds of cold, tired and bleary eyed but generally upbeat people slowly made their way across Lambeth Bridge – many wrapped in blue blankets that had been handed to them by officials – under clear skies having spent the night on their feet waiting.

The mood was one of stoic endurance combined with the energy of a National Trust visit. But once the crowds reached Westminster Hall the mood shifted to solemnity and emotion.

Slowly walking in silence past the coffin, surrounded by guards and four flickering candles, most paused to bow, while some blew a kiss, put their hand to their chest or crossed themselves. As they walked away, many were visibly emotional, wiping away tears.

Often carrying provisions in rucksacks or shopping bags and dressed in warm jackets, people filed along the South Bank before reaching the final stretch across the river and into Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster.

Among them were Sarah Calloway, 58, and her son Charlie, 20, who had travelled from East Sussex to join the queue at 10pm on Friday.

Sarah and Charlie Calloway, 58 and 20, mother and son from East Sussex in queue on Lambeth Bridge.
Sarah and Charlie Calloway, a mother and son from East Sussex, in the queue on Lambeth Bridge. Photograph: Miranda Bryant/The Guardian

Sarah, a retail assistant, said it had been cold but fun.

“I haven’t slept for 27 hours because I worked yesterday then came straight here and actually I’m fine but a bit stiff,” she said. “We’ve got our second wind.”

Although she describes their family as “very royalist”, the decision to see the Queen lying in state was “spur of the moment”.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” she said.

Wrapped in blankets on Lambeth Bridge were Mark Lai, 45, who had travelled from Manchester to join the queue at 10pm on Friday with his girlfriend, Kim.

Lai, a civil engineer from Hong Kong, said they were tired and cold. “It’s quite cold and windy in London,” he said.

But the mood of the crowd overnight, he added, had been “talkative and fun and happy”.

At a portable toilet stop between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge, James Bridge, 53, from Chelmsford, said it was especially cold between 4 and 5am but the queue had brought out the best of Britain.

The company director, who was queueing with his wife, Karen, and who had brought a supply of chocolate biscuits, fruit, nuts and water, said the mood overnight was “very positive”.

“There was good conversation, a bit of banter with people, the mood was sombre but pleasant.”

He wanted to be there “because of her”, he said. “Because she’s been the guiding light for the last 70-odd years.”

The queue, he added, was a great idea. “It’s lovely to see all walks of life coming together for one purpose … I’m really enjoying it. It’s what Britain’s about.”

Ramzi Hedari, 49, owner of Riverside cafe on Lambeth pier.
Ramzi Hedari, 49, owner of Riverside cafe on Lambeth pier. Photograph: Miranda Bryant/The Guardian

At the Riverside cafe on Lambeth pier, the business’s owner, Ramzi Hedari, 49, said warm croissants, custard tarts, bacon baps, coffee and tea have been the most popular items with those in the queue. They opened at 7am but he regretted that they did not stay open overnight as planned because they could not get the staff owing to Brexit staff shortages.

Overall, he described the mood as friendly, adding that “some of them are moody but we don’t blame them because they are tired”.

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Many have formed friendships in the queue, he said. “They’re united. They made friends with each other because it’s a long time they’ve been queueing.”

However, while he said he respected the Queen, you would not catch Hedari queueing for hours. “I don’t have the patience,” he said. “I don’t queue in the cinema. I don’t queue. Not more than half an hour anywhere.”

Contributor

Miranda Bryant

The GuardianTramp

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