REPORTAGE. Funeral of Elizabeth II: in London, campers sleep two days on the sidewalk to hope "say goodbye" to the queen

Sunk in her camping chair, Rachel would not move “for nothing in the world”. However, the place is not the calmest: the fifty-year-old is installed opposite Westminster Abbey, in London, surrounded by thousands of people and an impressive security system. “The police told us to put ourselves here. They promised us that we would not be chased away”, she reassures herself. At his feet, bottles of water, some food and a sleeping bag. What to spend two nights on the sidewalk, and thus be in the front row, Monday, September 19, when the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth II will cross Parliament Square.

Nathalie (left) and Rachel (right) hold a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II facing Westminster Abbey in London (United Kingdom), September 17, 2022. (PIERRE-LOUIS CARON / FRANCEINFO)

“As soon as we learned that the queen had left, we quickly prepared everything for our trip to London”, recalls Nathalie, her friend, who accompanied her from Cornwall, a five-hour drive from the British capital. His chair is brand new, the label of a sports store is even still attached to it. “It’s comfortable enough to sleep”, assure the two women, who took place at 5 am, Saturday, September 17. Despite the predicted 8°C overnight in London these days, this makeshift campsite isn’t too much of a problem for them.

“We had already come for the princely weddings, as well as for the Queen’s jubilee [en juin 2022]says Rachel, who readily describes herself as a “big fan of the crown”. During these events, she had already had to wait long hours to see the members of the royal family.

“Our friends think we’re crazy, but they’re still very curious to know how it goes.”

Rachel, a Briton from Cornwall

at franceinfo

To show its support for Royalsas they are known in English, Rachel decorated the security gates with flags and paper flowers. “It is above all a family that has lost a loved one”, she recalls. Her outfit for D-Day, “a discreet black ensemble”is already ready, rolled up at the bottom of its bag.

A little further down the sidewalk, Michelle and her daughter are sitting cross-legged on an orange camping mattress. They are resting after a long hastily organized trip. The forties indeed came from Oregon (northwestern United States), 8,000 kilometers away, to attend the commemorations. Her passion for the British crown, she gets it from her mother, who is also part of the trip. “When I was little, we used to get up at 2 a.m. to follow the royal events on television, she remembers. We’ve been preparing for this trip for a few years, because we suspected that the next appointment would unfortunately be the death of the queen.”

To cope with temperatures below 10°C at night, Michelle bought sleeping mats and thick sleeping bags.  (PIERRE-LOUIS CARON / FRANCEINFO)

By attending the ceremony, Michelle wants above all to pay homage to the figure that Elizabeth II embodied in her eyes. “I came to greet a model of grace but above all of stability”, she explains, in reference to the 70 years of reign of the deceased monarch. The presence of three Americans on this end of the sidewalk surprises the fans of the crown, who exchange with the visitors. “They explain a whole bunch of British customs and traditions to us, it’s great, especially for my daughter”smiles Michelle.

“In the United States, our history is recent and our leaders change very often. The queen had this particular role, it was a kind of landmark.”

Michelle, American citizen who came to London

at franceinfo

With her weekend neighbors, Michelle can chat “for hours”, notably in the style of Elizabeth II. “She assumed her role and handled the events, however serious they were, with great calm and in all humility”, campers agree. Only the death of Princess Diana, a sensitive affair for Elizabeth II, divides the otherwise very peaceful sidewalk. “She paid tribute to him in public, it’s all in the past”sweeps a sexagenarian seated a few meters from Michelle and her daughter. “More simply, what we want is to say goodbye to him”concludes the American.

Far from the debates on the royal family, Nigel, 58, is patient under his cap signed with a very sober “Great-Britain”. This Londoner, employed in the audiovisual sector, wanted to experience the funeral of Elizabeth II in person. Accompanied by his aunt, he settled at dawn on Saturday morning, very close to Westminster Abbey, before being moved by the police. “The police told us that there would be no problem here, but I’m afraid that the procession will not pass on this corner of the squarehe says, looking concerned. So we are ready to move, if necessary.”

Nigel, 58, in front of Parliament Square, locked by the police in London (United Kingdom), September 17, 2022. (PIERRE-LOUIS CARON / FRANCEINFO)

Spending more than two days behind security barriers does not bother Nigel, who sees a double opportunity there: to greet the Queen, and to witness an event of international significance. “I admired Elizabeth II, she was someone who benefited from great wisdomhe summarizes. During the Covid-19 crisis, for example, she encouraged us by quoting memories of the Second World War. For him, the late queen’s style largely explains the global interest in her funeral. “Look in France, our loss was also your loss”he launches, in reference to the particular attachment of the French for Her Majesty.

As police from across the UK lock down Parliament Square and the borough of Westminster, Nigel prepares for a once-in-a-lifetime moment. “It’s simple, in my lifetime, I will never see a greater historical event, he repeats. With the funeral of the queen, we are turning the page of the 20th century a little more. A few meters away, a Japanese journalist is recording a film set. “The cameras of the whole world are trained on London, and I am there, in the middle”, he smiles. Until Monday morning, Nigel is counting on his fleece jacket, his waterproof bag and a British slogan that he has made his own: “Keep calm and carry on”. In English: “Keep calm and carry on”.

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