‘Losing the matriarch’: Public pays respects in London
By Megan Specia
Raindrops had caused the multicolored dress adorning the stick-figure depiction of Queen Elizabeth, drawn by Phoebe White, 5, to bleed down the page despite a protective plastic covering.
“We love the queen,” Phoebe had written along with a large pencil heart, marked by the overnight rainstorms that had drenched London.
But on Wednesday afternoon the sun was breaking through as thousands of people crowded the area around Buckingham Palace to view tributes to the late monarch and hopefully catch a glimpse of her successor as her coffin is brought to Westminster Hall later in the day.
In nearby Green Park, elaborate scrapbooks leaned on 3-foot-tall crowns fashioned from wicker, and paintings, collages, cards and flowers were piled high or laid out on the grass in rows or spirals that allowed the crowds to walk through and reflect.
These organized public displays have been part of the ritual of grief that have captured the British nation since the queen’s death in Scotland on Thursday at 96. Now, that grief is centered on London after the queen’s coffin finished its journey from Scotland to her residence in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, it will travel in a formal procession to Westminster Hall, where she will lie in state for four days before her state funeral.
“She’s such an amazing example, and an inspiration to women and girls,” said Antonia Parsons, 34, her voice catching as she looked at her young daughter. “She’s the only queen, rather than king, that I and likely my daughter will ever know.”
Parsons, who lives in the Brixton area of London, is not a royalist but said she found herself deeply moved by the tributes to the queen, whom she described as a “signifier of stability, or carrying on.” Amid a cost-of-living crisis and political turmoil, Britain needs the queen now more than ever, Parsons said.
“We know we are going into a difficult winter ahead, and I think that sort of doubles the grief that people are already feeling,” she added.
Technology allowed even those not present to take part, with countless people on video calls to friends and relatives, showing them the piles of tributes. As one American woman carried her phone through the crowd, a voice on the other end could be heard saying, “It is a moment in history, isn’t it?”
It was in that spirit that many had come out Wednesday. Mary Williams and her husband, Nigel Williams, both 73, who are from Portsmouth in southern England, had come to Green Park with their friend Mary Sellar, 71, to leave flowers. They were impressed by the organization around the event, and said they were glad they had come to take part.
“Even at our age, we’ve not known anything other than her,” Sellar said, “and we are still getting used to the idea of a king on the throne.”
Nigel Williams noted the moment of transition for the country.
“Even singing the national anthem now as ‘God Save the King’ feels alien to us,” he said.
“We’ve got a new prime minister, a new king, even a new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, all in just a matter of a few days,” he said. But amid the cost-of-living crisis and fractures in the United Kingdom, he said he hoped to see Scotland’s push for independence “swing the other way” in the wake of the queen’s death, and for the United Kingdom to remain as it is.
Yvonne Frater, 72, and her sister-in-law Alison Frater, 66, said they both felt a personal connection to the queen.
“It’s like losing the matriarch of the family,” said Yvonne Frater, a native of Jamaica, where the queen is still the head of state, who moved to Britain as child. “And when that matriarch goes, it’s the not knowing what happens next.”