EAnother mystery surrounding Her Majesty’s funeral has been revealed: Volunteers from all over the UK collected the bouquets in front of Buckingham Palace for hours and carefully removed the plastic foil by hand so that the plastic can be recycled. The flowers themselves are composted, the compost is then distributed in the royal family’s parks and gardens. But only after Elizabeth II has found her last resting place. Until then, however, at least five days will pass.
Wednesday begins surprisingly quiet in London. The number of police officers in the morning seems almost as large as the number of onlookers, some of whom nevertheless spent the night outdoors. And in the pouring rain. “I just got wet,” says Jane Small. Still, she was annoyed. Because the newspapers had written that tents were not allowed to be set up along the mall. So she left her shelter at home and sat in the rain. Unfortunately, she also missed the arrival of the coffin the night before, because the column did not go to the palace via the Mall, but via Constitution Hill.
But King Charles III. and Queen Camilla caught a glimpse of them a little later as they were driving home. Does she like Camilla? “Of course, I like them all.” And Camilla especially: “So many bad things have been said about her, but not a bad word ever crossed her lips. How can you not like a woman like that?” she asks, almost a little indignant. She is glad that the sun is now peeping through the trees and bringing a little warmth. At night, when it got too cold for her, she went to get tea or coffee while her neighbor kept the place free. The woman from Winchester with the heart-shaped Union Jack earrings is a keen royalist. She was at William and Kate’s wedding, she also made a special trip to Windsor for Harry and Meghan, and at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June she stayed a full four days and four nights right here on the same spot on the Mall. “The place is strategic,” she says. “I have a clear view of Buckingham Palace and it’s not far to the toilet.”
There is no shortage of toilets. Large drinking water tanks have also been set up in St James’s Park along the Mall, which leads from Buckingham Palace towards Trafalgar Square. London has prepared well for the invasion of hundreds of thousands that are expected. More than 1000 volunteers, stewards and police officers are on the road to give people a hand. They do it with such friendliness that they always get spontaneous applause. There is also applause when the garbage truck comes by to collect the many coffee cups – which, however, always causes an uproar: is there a royal coming around the corner? Possibly the king with his wife, who wants to shake hands unannounced?
Nothing fazes Gareth Mills that easily. He’s standing at the mall in a tweed jacket. He was in the Royal Navy and wears his medals proudly on his chest. “The Queen has paid for me long enough that I can now pay my respects to her,” he says. He’s from Dorchester, left at four in the morning. “I missed the big rain.” He is particularly curious about the brothers William and Harry, who seem to have gotten back together after the death of their grandmother. “Let’s see how long that lasts,” says the fifty-three-year-old somewhat sceptically.
From the Mall, turn right to Horse Guards Parade, where Trooping the Color has been held every year in honor of the Queen’s birthday, and from there to Westminster Hall. Some theaters and museums, such as the Tate Modern, offer refreshments, or just rest or use the restroom. The British Film Institute’s Southbank cinema screens films about the Queen and her 70-year reign. There is also a tense silence at the Parliament building, where the Queen’s coffin will be laid out for the next few days. Those waiting are still standing on the other side of the Thames, and Vanessa Nathakumaran is the first to stand in front. Her bracelet with the number “000001” proves it.
It was pure coincidence that she took her seat here at 11:30 am on Monday. “I asked a couple of police officers and they said the line started here at Queen Mum’s funeral.” So the 56-year-old presented herself, completely unprepared. Her daughter later brought her food and drink and warm clothes. She has told her story a thousand times now, that she wanted to pay respect to the Queen for doing so much for her country and the Commonwealth. However, she also has a very personal history that connects her to the Queen and her family. Her great-uncle, Sir Waithilingam Duraiswamy, was a well-known lawyer and politician in the former British colony of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. He was knighted by Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, in the year of his coronation in 1937.
John Stokes, number 140 in line, wears an umbrella and bowler hat especially for the occasion. He met the queen nine times. “I was stationed in London as a soldier,” says the 48-year-old from Shropshire. She even spoke to him five times. “She made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. That was wonderful.” He finds it sad that the queen died so unexpectedly. “But,” he says, “that’s the kind of death you wish for: on Tuesdays she was still working, on Thursdays she was dead.” He is certain that Charles will be a good king. Why? “Because he learned from the best.”