LONDON (AP) — Britain and the world lay to rest Monday for Queen Elizabeth II in a state funeral that will draw presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers and up to a million people to line the streets of London to say their last goodbyes with a monarch whose 70-year reign defined the age.
A day packed with funeral events in London and Windsor began early as the doors of the 900-year-old Westminster Hall were closed to mourners after hundreds of thousands of people gathered in front of her coffin since September 14. Many spent cold nights outdoors to pay their respects at the foot of the Queen’s flag-draped coffin in a moving outpouring of national grief.
The closing of the hall marked the end of four full days of the coffin standing and the start of Britain’s first state funeral since that of Winston Churchill in 1965, the first of 15 prime ministers during Elizabeth’s reign. Two days before her death on September 8, the Queen appointed her last Prime Minister, Liz Truss, while on a summer holiday at Balmoral.
Among the last to join the coffin was Tracey Dobson, from Hertfordshire, north of London.
“I felt I had to come and pay my last respects to our magnanimous Queen, she has done so much for us and just a thank you from the people,” she said.
Monday was declared a public holiday in honor of Elizabeth, who died on September 8 aged 96. Her funeral will be broadcast live to more than 200 countries and territories around the world and shown to crowds in parks and public spaces across the UK.
Police officers from across the country will be on duty as part of the biggest one-day police operation in London’s history.
The evening before the funeral, King Charles III sent a message of thanks to people in Britain and around the world, saying he and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, were “overwhelmed” by the number of people who had come to pay their respects to the Queen.
“As we all prepare to say our last goodbyes, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the countless people who have been such a support and comfort to my family and myself during this difficult time,” he said.
For the funeral, Elizabeth’s coffin will be carried from Westminster Hall, across the road to Westminster Abbey, on a royal carriage pulled by 142 Royal Navy sailors. The same carriage was used to transport the coffins of the late kings Edward VII, George V and George VI, as well as Churchill.
The service, which will be attended by 2,000 people, from world leaders to health workers and volunteers, will conclude with two minutes’ silence, followed by the national anthem and bagpipes, before the Queen’s coffin is lifted in a procession surrounded by armed units. forces in full dress, with the Queen’s children following behind, to Wellington Arch near Buckingham Palace.
There he will be placed in a hearse to be taken to Windsor for another procession down the Long Walk, the three-mile (five-kilometre) avenue that leads to the town’s castle, before the service at St George’s Chapel. She will then be buried with her late husband Prince Philip in a private family service.
Central London was packed with people looking for the best viewing spot before dawn on Monday, with authorities warning it would be very crowded.
US President Joe Biden was among the leaders who paid their respects at the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday as thousands of police, hundreds of British soldiers and an army of officials made final preparations for the funeral – an impressive display of national mourning that will also be the biggest gathering of world leaders in years. .
People across Britain observed a minute’s silence at 8pm on Sunday in memory of the only monarch most have ever known. In Westminster Hall, the steady stream of mourners stopped for 60 seconds as people watched in profound silence for a moment of reflection.
It began to rain in Windsor as the crowd fell silent for a moment of reflection. Some have set up small camps and chairs near Windsor Castle, planning to spend the night there to reserve prime spots to view the Queen’s coffin when she arrives.
“Well, it’s just one night and one day of our lives. Elizabeth gave us – you know – 70 years. So the rest isn’t too much to ask, is it?’ said Fred Sweeney, 52, who set up his place with two Union flags on large trees.
Biden described Queen Elizabeth II as “decent”, “honorable” and “all about service” as he signed a book of condolences, saying his heart was with the royal family.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose invitation has drawn criticism from rights groups over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, will not attend Monday’s funeral. Another royal, Prince Turki bin Mohammed, is expected to represent Saudi Arabia.
Danica Kirko, Samia Kulab and David Keiton contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii