Queen queue: I waited for nine hours overnight – here's what it's really like

·12 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15:  Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre, lying in state on the catafalque in Westminster Hall, at the Palace of Westminster, ahead of her funeral on Monday, on September 15, 2022 in London, England. Members of the public are able to pay respects to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for 23 hours a day until 06:30 on September 19, 2022.  Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, lying in state in Westminster Hall, on September 15 (Getty Images)

I didn’t wake up on Wednesday with plans to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state ahead of her funeral.

Having watched footage of the procession of the Queen's coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster for most of the afternoon, at 7pm a thought entered my head and quickly took root.

I only live a few miles away. I should seize the opportunity to witness this historic event or I’d regret it.

Throwing some snacks, water and a warm jumper in a bag, I headed towards the back of the queue with the thought: “I’ll just see how quickly it’s moving – I can always come home if it’s horrendous.”

My honest advice? Don’t do this unless you're prepared to be in it for the long haul. The back of the queue moves much faster than the front and by the time you realise you’ll be committed to a long wait.

A quick check of the government’s tracker told me the line was around 2.6 miles long and I headed towards Borough Market.

From there, I followed the crowds until I came across the end of the queue beneath Southwark Bridge at 8.10pm.

queen queue route map
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued maps and updates on Twitter to show the Queen queue route (DCMS)

I had read the strict rules on not saving places for friends and nervously asked two police officers if I should stand aside until mine arrived.

“Just get in line,” they shrugged. “They’re not giving out wristbands yet.”

We moved fairly quickly from there, passing Shakespeare’s Globe, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern, where a sheepish busker confessed: “I didn’t realise the Queen’s queue would be here to be honest. I’ve got a bit of an audience!”

At this stage, the atmosphere was non-existent. People kept themselves to themselves, quietly marching along the South Bank.

My friend joined me at Blackfriars and by 9.32pm we were standing at the base of the London Eye – and the Houses of Parliament were finally in sight.

This was where things started to slow down.

Half an hour later we had only travelled as far as County Hall – typically a 30-second walk – where we were given wristbands to flash to marshals at checkpoints along the route.

Wristband given to mourners queuing to see the Queen lying in state
Wristband given to mourners queuing to see the Queen lying in state (Yahoo UK)

Read more: Day-to-day guide of what happens next after Queen's death

I also had my first portaloo sighting and breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge there were toilet stops along the way.

Turning on to Westminster Bridge, a ripple of excitement came over the line. We were staring up at Big Ben, so surely it couldn’t be long now.

Thankfully, I was unaware of how much time I actually had left to wait.

The next section was difficult as we stopped and started along the Thames Path.

What is usually a 10-minute walk between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge took the best part of two hours - ending at around 12.35am.

Emboldened by the security of our wristbands, we got into the rhythm of a new kind of queue etiquette.

I strayed from the line only to find myself in more queues for portaloos and coffee, joking with strangers about how British it all was.

There was an unspoken agreement that you could return to your place after wandering off to find caffeine, water or a seat.

Lambeth Bridge seen on the first night of the Queen's lying in state
Lambeth Bridge seen on the first night of the Queen's lying in state (Yahoo UK)

It was at this point word reached me (via WhatsApp from someone further along in the queue) that the route ‘zig-zagged’ on the other side of the river, mere metres from our final destination, and it was taking three hours to get through.

‘The zig zags’ were something we all came to fear.

While waiting for my midnight latte from a cheerful barista – presumably doing more business than he had in months – I made the mistake of telling a few people my new intel.

“You’re joking. Three hours? That can’t be right. Maybe we shouldn’t have come,” came one response.

“I’ve got a hotel booked for tonight,” one woman told me. “I’m wondering if I’ll even need it now!”

As it turned out, she didn’t.

Morale was fading fast. People considered abandoning the queue. One group of friends who had been behind us for four-and-a-half hours vanished on Lambeth Bridge.

Yawning and checking our watches, we reached the dreaded ‘zig zags’ at around 12.50am.

The line snaked back and forth through the gardens outside the Palace of Westminster like an airport check-in queue.

Members of the public in the queue in Victoria Tower Gardens, London, as they wait to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state at Westminster Hall, ahead of her funeral on Monday. Picture date: Thursday September 15, 2022. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Members of the public in the queue in Victoria Tower Gardens, London, as they wait to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state at Westminster Hall (Getty Images)
The queue to see the Queen lying in state zig-zags back and forth in the gardens south of the Palace of Westminster
The queue to see the Queen lying in state zig-zags back and forth in the gardens south of the Palace of Westminster (Yahoo UK)

Feet were throbbing and backs were starting to twinge. Mourners ventured to find benches or spaces to park themselves on the floor.

A few people fainted or needed medical assistance but volunteers and other well-wishers were quickly on hand to help.

Every marshal along the route had told us “it’ll only be another two hours from here.” It became a running joke in the crowd and our sense of community grew. We were united in our misery, aches and pains.

At every second turn, we reached a line of portaloos and an unpleasant smell wafted over us.

Our noses wrinkled in disgust and we got used to pulling jumpers over our faces in a rhythm as we filed back and forth, smiling as we tried to speed away from the toilets.

It felt a bit like Glastonbury Festival but without the music and booze.

I now had a better view of other queuers as we paraded past one another. I had come dressed for comfort in some black joggers and trainers while most wore warm coats and woolly hats.

But some had made choices more appropriate for a farewell to a monarch, dressed up in suits and ties. One incredibly dapper gentleman in a top hat and bow tie put us to shame.

A well-dressed man in a top hat and bow tie waits to see the Queen lying in state
A well-dressed man in a top hat and bow tie waits to see the Queen lying in state (Yahoo UK)

It wasn’t all glum. My friend and I got chatting to the people behind us and for the next few hours we laughed and joked – describing our jobs, chatting about travel plans and adding each other on Instagram.

We fell into fits of giggles, which sounds wildly inappropriate at such a solemn occasion but exhaustion was really setting in.

At around 2.20am, rumours started circulating that Westminster Hall was closing. Groans echoed across the crowd.

“It’s going to be closed for an hour. They’re cleaning it.”

“Cleaning it! They’ve only just opened it! How dirty can it be?”

Admitting defeat, we sat down on the grimy floor. I worried for the people stuck near the portaloos.

Nearby, a man started singing the hymn I Vow to Thee My Country and a dozen or so people joined in tentatively. It certainly wasn’t the type of rousing chorus you’d see on the news but was a welcome display of unity in the early hours.

Once we were on the move again we were given a little treat by the marshals.

“Lucky dip!” one shouted, holding open a Sainsbury’s bag. “Come and grab something – see what you get.”

Hands plunged into the bag and emerged clutching a random selection of bananas, packets of biscuits, bags of Butter Mintoes and spicy peanuts. We shared them out, grateful for the energy boost at 4.20am.

Suddenly, we were at the front of the queue and were being instructed to ditch our food and liquids.

Plastic bottles were piling up and unopened tubes of Pringles and bags of chocolate buttons lay discarded on the floor.

On one wall sat abandoned deodorants, perfumes and a Charlotte Tilbury lipstick.

The end of the queue to see the Queen lying in state at Westminster Hall
The end of the queue to see the Queen lying in state at Westminster Hall

The atmosphere became more tense, with stewards urgently shepherding us towards the airport security-style scanners and directing us to switch off our phones.

After nearly nine hours of queuing, and four hours in the 'zig zags', we finally walked up the steps into Westminster Hall at around 4.45am.

Chatter melted away and a solemn hush fell over the crowd. Nobody needed to be told that total silence was required.

Joining the throng at the back of the room, we could hear the eerie stomping of boots on the stone floor as the changing of the guards took place. A member of staff jostled through the crowd to instruct a man to take off his cap.

We were then invited to walk down the steps of the hall and file past the Queen’s coffin. Ushers beckoned us to move faster.

Slowing down as much as we dared without being told off, we shuffled past with our heads turned towards the bright colours of the Royal Standard and the glistening jewels of the Imperial State Crown.

Some bowed or curtsied as a mark of respect while others wiped away tears.

I expected to be more emotional. So many moments have caused me to cry in the last week but, after so many hours spent queuing, this all felt surreal.

I wasn’t sure what I ‘should’ be thinking about. I had a maximum of a couple of minutes in the room. What is the proper way to pay your respects to a monarch of 70 years?

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: A general view of the Imperial State Crown as the coffin carrying Queen Elizabeth II rests in Westminster Hall for the Lying-in State on September 14, 2022 in London, England. Queen Elizabeth II's coffin is taken in procession on a Gun Carriage of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall where she will lay in state until the early morning of her funeral. Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The Imperial State Crown sits atop the coffin carrying Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall (Getty Images)

In the end, I thought of her grandchildren. Having lost grandmothers in recent years, my mind turned to my own waves of grief upon seeing their coffins for the first time. In the wide expanse of Westminster Hall, it looked so small and alone.

Stealing one last glance behind me, I exited the hall and it was all over.

Mourners stumbled out onto Parliament Square, dazed and a little shell-shocked. We lingered a few moments and shared some thoughts before saying our goodbyes.

Then came the job of working out how to get home. The first Jubilee line tube wasn’t leaving for another half an hour. A queue (yes, another one) was already forming at the entrance to Westminster station and my feet weren’t feeling up to the job of standing any longer.

Checking my iPhone battery (9%), I settled on an Uber and hobbled across Westminster Bridge, trying to reach beyond the point of road closures before the power drained completely.

I was clambering into a car at 5.09am and my head hit the pillow just before sunrise.

Despite the long wait, getting to pay my respects to our longest-serving monarch and experiencing the crowd camaraderie made the exhaustion completely worthwhile.

It's a page in our history – and a night I'll remember for a very long time.

Thinking of joining the Queen queue? Read on for tips and things to know before you go

How do I find the end of the queue to see the Queen lying in state?

  • Check the DCMS tracker by following DCMS on Twitter or YouTube. The government is giving constant updates on how long the queue is, the nearest landmark and have helpfully added a What 3 Words code, so you can pinpoint the exact location.

What should I take with me to the queue for the Queen?

  • Snacks - they won’t be confiscated until the very end of the queue and you’ll be grateful for the refreshments.

  • Plenty of water or a refillable water bottle. You can buy refreshments at a few places along the South Bank, or use the dedicated water fountains in Victoria Tower Gardens.

  • A power bank for your phone.

  • A warm jumper or coat, as well as waterproofs (just in case!)

  • Comfortable shoes.

  • Any medicine you might need to take.

What aren't you allowed to take to the Queen queue?

  • Big bags - you'll have to leave them at the bag drop

  • Any liquids. That includes hand sanitisers, water, deodorant, lip balm. Make sure you don't have any expensive make-up or perfume in your bag - you'll have to throw them away!

  • Folding chairs, sleeping bags and other camping equipment.

  • Sharp items

  • Flowers, teddy bears or other tribute items.

A full list is available on the DCMS website.

Can I leave the Queen queue to go to the toilet?

  • Don't worry about being 'stuck' and unable to use toilets or find water. Polite queue etiquette sets in quickly and people allow each other to come and go – especially once you've got your wristband.

  • There are toilets along the route. Buildings along the South Bank – like the National Theatre – are allowing mourners to use their public toilets. There's a row of portaloos near County Hall and a few near Lambeth Bridge. Once you get to Victoria Tower Gardens, there are plenty of portaloos.

Other advice for the queue

  • If you're going overnight, plan potential routes home in advance by researching night tubes, night buses and first trains.

  • The back of the queue may be moving much faster than the front and can be misleading. If you’re going to join, make sure you’re in it for the long haul!

  • Chat to your neighbours. The sense of camaraderie is lovely and the experience is one to be shared (if you wish to do so).