Anna Chaplain Annie's view from 'The Queue'
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
A chance encounter in London's queue to pay one's respects to the late Queen Elizabeth led Anna Chaplain Annie Jefferies to find herself on Channel 4 News.
Annie had travelled from Devon to join the line of mourners and was soon in conversation – as she shuffled along the South Bank – with TV reporter Kiran Moodley. Watch his report here.
Annie has been reflecting on the whole experience of queueing for so long to pay one's last respects to the Queen lying in state:
‘I was always going to do this trip to London when the Queen died, so the only decision was when?
‘Sooner rather than later in the “lying-in-state time period” seemed the best idea, hopefully before the queues grew too long and certainly before the crowds grew in number at the weekend.
‘I caught the night sleeper train from Penzance, catching the train at 1.00 am at Exeter St David's. The train was packed and I was quite relieved to settle down into one of the few seats left. I expected to drop off for a few hours, but there were lots of people around me snoring loudly, lying on the floor as the seats were incredibly uncomfortable and after about 30 minutes I realised that this was going to be quite a testing night… I was already pretty tired and hoped that I would simply nod off and get at least an hour or two’s rest… I tried to find a cup of coffee at 2.30 am, but no luck.
‘Back I went to my seat, counting sheep and thinking about “our servant Queen” – a man in front of me fell off his seat about 3.00 am, swearing so loudly he managed to wake up those fellow passengers who WERE asleep. The train was not a happy place to be and I was highly relieved to see the train slowing down as it approached platform one in Paddington. By now I was exhausted, had eaten one of my packs of sandwiches and a banana, and was relieved that I had wrapped myself in a pashmina over my gilet to keep warm.
‘At 5.00 am this was not the time to be thinking of crossing London by Tube; I hurried to the taxi rank and, irrespective of the cost, explained “my mission” to the taxi driver, who could not have been more kind and helpful. We arrived at Blackfriars Bridge at 5.25 am, and there it was snaking along the road by the Thames… THE QUEUE!
I was here, any tiredness vanished and four-to-five people around me introduced themselves, so we all immediately became fellow “pilgrims” to pay our last respects to our beloved Queen. It was still dark but not too cold, the lights of buildings spreading along both sides of the Thames were surprisingly beautiful and combined with lights in the trees as we began our walk, in our own individual ways we each started to absorb the special sights around us. The Thames was so close at times you could almost stretch over and touch the water, boats gently passed under the bridges, ducks swam alongside the edge of the water and the whole atmosphere was quite tranquil and comforting. The queue kept on slowly moving forwards which felt encouraging; alongside our path, there were cafés, restaurants and even bars open all through the night, and after about two hours as dawn broke, one of us slipped out of the queue coming back with five steaming coffees!
‘At the London Eye, we were stopped by officials who were handing out wristbands to be worn as we passed through several checkpoints on the way. On we went past The National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall and on the other side of the Thames, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben were clearly in view. Gosh, 8.00 am and we were almost there… not quite, on we walked past Westminster Bridge and onwards to Lambeth Bridge.
‘Walking alongside the Covid wall and seeing the red hearts commemorating so many thousands of deaths, was quite shocking and made all of us walking very thankful for our own families and friends who had not caught this terrible virus. The familiar facade of Lambeth Palace appeared on the left as we turned to continue our pilgrimage across Lambeth Bridge; a final look at the increasing activity on the Thames, more police boats cruising up and down now and you suddenly became aware of the massive but unobtrusive presence of the police along the whole route. As we left Lambeth Bridge, the police presence intensified, another checkpoint for wristbands. “No wristbands, no entry into the gardens” which led the approach to Westminster Hall. It was 8.45 am and one sensed anticipation from us all that we were close to arriving at our destination. We moved into the “airport style” roped lines and trudged up and down for almost three hours… there must have been about 100 of these lines and thousands of people in the gardens at a time. However the mood was changing, people eating up their food, sharing with others in the queue and leaving snack bars, drinks and unopened packs of sandwiches in a pile to be distributed to the homeless. People became quieter and the atmosphere seemed more sombre as the walls of Westminster loomed before us, a chance meeting with the archbishops of Canterbury and York was welcomed, encouraging words and a blessing was offered before we headed to the security station.
‘All the officials on the route had been so cheerful and helpful and the security officers were lovely, despite confiscating my bottle of perfume and toothpaste!
‘We had arrived at the steps of Westminster Hall; I suddenly felt quite nervous. Total silence descended as people were led to the top of the steps, several men took black ties out of their pockets, caps were removed and with a turn to the left there it was…
‘A total moment of history. The coffin lying on this beautiful catafalque in such a magnificent and enormous hall. The coffin was draped in the wonderful colours of the flag, with the glittering orb and sceptre, the wonderful wreath of flowers and the Imperial State Crown, with its stones shimmering as the light fell on it. At the head of the coffin, a bejewelled cross reminded us all of the deep Christian faith that our Queen had held, and standing there I felt this enormous sense of awe for the life of this wonderful person and immense gratitude for all that she had done, not only for the country, the World and the Commonwealth but for each of us as individuals. The Queen had been there for my whole life, with her charm, grace, wonderful smile and perfect skin. I have always been such a supporter of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, this was my moment to say “thank you” for their duty and committed service. A tear pricked the back of my eye, but at that moment we were ushered gently forwards and the moment passed. I approached the coffin and here were the mortal remains of MY Queen, the crown looked tiny (what a small head fitted it I thought) and then the moment to curtsey and offer a silent prayer. Although the queue kept moving, we were all allowed a moment of privacy to pay our own tribute.
‘The Hall is enormous and one felt compelled to keep having a final look backwards, I then noticed the guards at the corner of the catafalque and the yeoman of the guard all standing like statues keeping vigil for Her Majesty. What a magnificent sight. I reached the exit doors and turned for one last time. A final prayer and goodbye. I gave the Queen a total of 16 hours on my journey to pay my respects, the Queen gave me 70 years.
‘Rest in peace, your Majesty.’
And don't miss…
Screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who wrote both the James Bond and Paddington Bear sketches with Her Majesty, has recorded some poignant reflections on the queue phenomenon; listen to BBC Radio 4's 'The Best of Today'.