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Royal commentator Ian Lloyd: Outside, there is a friendly unity. Inside? Only silence

© PAPeople wait in the long and winding queue near the Shard on the way to Westminster Hall to pay respects to the Queen yesterday morning
People wait in the long and winding queue near the Shard on the way to Westminster Hall to pay respects to the Queen yesterday morning

Waiting in the queue, I overheard a little boy ask his mum: “How old was the Queen?” Looking down, she replied: “Oh, she was 96.” He mused for a moment before saying: “She lived all her life then!”

It’s not a bad way of looking at it. Indeed, many of the people I have spoken to over the past few days in London are celebrating that the Queen had a long life, a life given over to service and duty, and, at the end, died peacefully.

I have never seen anything like the outpouring of affection for the Queen and her family in the 35 years I’ve been reporting on royal events.

In London there has been none of the raw grief we saw when Diana died. This seems more respectful, a fitting way to mark the life of a woman who restrained her own emotions during a life of service.

© PA
Westminster Hall (Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Essentially a modest person, she would have been pleased but possibly surprised by such an outpouring of affection over the past 10 days. On Tuesday, I was outside RAF Northolt to see her body being driven back to London. I was expecting a few hardy souls to join me by the side of the A40, not the thousand or so gathered in the steady drizzle. Traffic on the motorway and side roads ground to a halt. I dumped the car on a grass verge and ran the last half-mile.

As the royal hearse passed by with the royal standard, glowing under spotlights, there were shouts of “God bless the Queen” and a growing ripple of applause. I saw the Princess Royal biting her lip through the rain-spattered windows of her car, clearly surprised by the number of people. From the nearby bridge over the M40 I looked down and saw hundreds of abandoned vehicles, with men and women running through the traffic to see history unfold.

I was in the capital the following day for the procession to Westminster Hall. As Charles drove out of Clarence House there were shouts of “God save the King”, renditions of the National Anthem and more applause. It was an echo of a bygone age and its simple sincerity surprised me in these cynical times.

As the cortège passed by, there was no shouting or applause, at least where I was in the Mall outside Clarence House. Instead, there was the rhythmic beat of guardsmen’s boots, the crunch of the gun carriage wheels and the funeral anthems of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin. Behind it came our new King, who has slid as seamlessly into his new role as the Queen herself did back in 1952 as a 25-year-old wife and mother. Princess Anne again looked solemn, and William and Harry were clearly lost in their thoughts.

Another moving sight was the upright figure of the Queen’s favourite member of staff, Paul Whybrew, her 62-year-old page, who starred in her James Bond spoof in 2012. Loyal to the end, “Tall Paul”, as she dubbed him, was by her side in her final days at Balmoral. He had in recent years been a close friend and would even sit and watch TV with her. Hundreds watched the ceremony on TV screens in Hyde Park as they had for Diana’s funeral in 1997. Others headed for Green Park where flowers were being laid in circles of colour around tree after tree. What was surprising was that all ages were there pausing to lay a tribute, to read cards and messages and shed a tear. Here and there were Paddington bears and the odd marmalade sandwich which, in the now-famous Jubilee video three months ago, endeared the Queen to a whole new generation.

Members of the public file past as Queen Elizabeth II ‘s grandchildren hold a vigil beside the coffin (Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

I also made sure I was part of that other, far longer procession, to witness the lying in state. I was lucky to wait just nine hours but it was not a mournful experience but a chance to swap memories of the Queen with people gathering to pay their own respects. We do love a good queue and this was a royally good queue, with lots of place-saving, as we nipped off for a toilet break or to grab a coffee.

I met a family from Australia who loved the Queen and said there was a bit of a “thing” over there about William and Kate, the golden couple. I was also with the Grant sisters, who hailed from Tomintoul but now lived in Bromley and who, like the rest of us, “just had to be here”.

Inside Westminster Hall there was only silence as, alone with our thoughts, we walked down carpeted steps in to this ancient building that has witnessed coronation banquets, the trial of Charles I, addresses to parliament by world leaders from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama, and now the lying in state of our much-loved Queen. I bowed and said: “Thank you, Ma’am”. Others curtsied or crossed themselves.

What has struck me in London is the need to be together. There was such a feeling of affection for the new King and Camilla, who have both worked hard to secure a level of public affection over the years. There was a feeling of healing when Harry marched in time alongside his brother, and even Prince Andrew was brought back into the royal fold, which would have gladdened his mother’s heart.

How long will this feeling of family unity and national unity last? Who knows? What matters, surely, is that when history is unfolding, our country has gathered, from the gates of Balmoral to Westminster Hall, to offer a most fitting farewell to a most exceptional Queen.

Ian Lloyd is author of The Queen: 70 Chapters In The Life Of Elizabeth II