They watched: Britain has woken up to its political realities after a 12-day royal slumber. Since the death of the Queen on March 8, nothing else seemed to have happened that caught people’s attention. Not the war in Ukraine, not events around Taiwan — not their own rising bills. The coverage was wall to wall, moment to moment, culminating in the funeral on September 19.
And that was a show like no other. Whatever else the British can or cannot do well, nobody does a royal funeral like they do. That blend of solemnity with splendour added up to a poignant grandeur that would be unforgettable to anyone who saw it, and it’s hard to find anyone who did not. Not anywhere around the world.
In Britain an estimated 25 million watched the funeral live. In a population of 65 million, that would be a very substantial part of it. But ‘only’ about as many as the number that watched the opening of the Olympics in 2012. Unexpectedly, that was still considerably less than the 32 million who watched Princess Diana’s funeral 25 years back, in August 1997. That, given the lesser population then, was wall-to-wall in viewing as it was in coverage. But that then was royalty wrapped in scandal and mired in controversy. Hard to take eyes off that sort of heady mix.
If there were any complaints, and there were some, they were that the events of September 19 went on just too long. True, the government and the palace wanted an event unforgettably grand, but grandeur does not necessarily become grander the longer you stretch it. This was an event that went on all day. But without a doubt, the carefully crafted choreography worked all the way, and no doubt it did for all who chose to watch it all the way.
Right on queue: In the final days before the funeral, the queue to file by the Queen’s coffin lying in state in Westminster Hall became talked about almost more than the Queen. The queue became an event, it earned itself a proper noun: it was ‘the’ queue, not ‘a’ queue. It was of course for the Queen but the patience and reverence that formed the queue, and the discipline within the queue said a great deal about the best of the British.
At its longest, it stretched all of eight kilometres. At its longest, the wait time in the queue was close to 24 hours. Typically it was 12 hours, some got away queuing just five. But many queued through the night, with temperatures down to 7 degrees. Hundreds needed medical attention, and well over a hundred were hospitalised, suffering mostly head injuries through fainting and falling. That did not stop more and more queuing.
At one stage the queue had to be closed, to save people long waiting hours. The move didn’t work. People simply formed a second queue to join the first. How much more British can the British get?