We are delighted to publish this account of Libbla Kelly’s experience queueing to see HM The Queen lying in state. With the extensive press coverage of this event we all have a rough idea of what it must have been like to patiently queue for hours in order to say a last goodbye. This is one account that gives us an in-depth look into that experience…
Everyone is calling it a pilgrimage now, but that was my word for the 4.5 mile path to Her shrine, long before the media got hold of it! It was a queue to those less spiritual and became a pilgrimage thereafter. Having walked it, been in it and conquered it, I believe the latter is the more fitting name for it. I was reminded at the beginning of the queue of my memories of Lourdes, where I went every year for 13 years when I was younger to help people with disabilities, and there we bowed to Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, this pilgrimage, in some ways was similar.
The definition of a pilgrim is somebody who visits a shrine or a secret place. We knew we were visiting a shrine that day, but I had no idea until I reached the inside of Westminster Hall how strongly I felt it. We all know how her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has reached so many people, in so many ways. We have seen the footage and shared the Platinum Jubilee. We have heard the thousands of stories of this extraordinary lady who globally touched all our lives, be it some lucky ones like me, face to face, or through television, radio or newspapers. It was always so difficult to ignore her bright beacon of shining light wherever she went but I had no idea the effect this 15 hours was going to have on my life.
I decided to go to the Lying in State quite last minute really. I had been staying in London with my stepson and the next morning woke at 6:15am on Sunday 16 September and decided, yes, I will go.
I got the train to London Bridge and walked, slightly dishearteningly, against the queue all the way to Southwark Park where on rounding into the park I said hello to a girl walking alone, like me. She was Annabel the first of my fellow pilgrims, we walked through the park and to the first of our many zig-zags of the day, where the queue stopped and we all relaxed. There around us appeared to be only women aged between 35 and 68, and they turned out the be 11 of the best women you could meet. There were a group of 4, 3, 2 and 4 of us who had come alone. Not unlucky 13, I am no longer superstitious!
There was an instant bond of camaraderie, women are very good at that. We understand and we care for each other. The power of this group of women was part of how my life changed as the day progressed. None of us women knew that being together and sharing the next 14.5 hours would be so extraordinary, but we all felt it and we all said we felt it out loud. We shared stories, laughs, sadness’s, and opened our hearts to each other along the way. It was fabulous.
In those 22k steps recorded on my iPhone, taken far more slowly than any fitness instructor would like, we were looked after so unbelievably well by the backbone of British volunteers that always turn out at public occasions, this one being the biggest and most extraordinary ever. Their offers of water, coffee, tea, chat, fun, songs, affection, guidance, kindness and encouragement kept us new friends going along the way. Marshalls, young and old, police from all corners of the UK, pastors, food premises of all sorts and some gentle musicians, taking care not to make this a jamboree in any sense, there was always an underlying knowing of why we were there and what the ultimate end was going to be.
Some poor people (not in our girl group I hasten to add) had to drop out – knees gave way, hips ached, feet swelled but equally, many dragged themselves on through pain and injury, and buoyed on by a very fit 83-year-old spritely man in front of us, we were not going to be defeated. Paying our respects to the Queen, saying our final goodbye on this most important of days was our goal and we were going to make it.
There was much history along the way for those interested one hilarious question was on seeing a tower behind a building and looking at a map Sue said “It says here it is a Pizza Express, dead smart isn’t it?” It turned out, as we rounded the corner to be Southwark Cathedral! More belly-aching laughs to keep us going! Many of which I cannot share on these pages, but you can imagine the content of the subjects from 13 midlife women from all walks of life!
Sometimes I drifted away from my group and sought silence in a patch of sun dappling through the plane trees, or in the grey lapping water of the Thames to reflect on Her Majesty’s life, her values. I thought about how much joy she had brought to so many too, how she strived through thick and thin and served us all uncomplaining, unwavering and through personal setbacks, publicly talked about. She had made it to 96 with a hardly a blemish on her character because she stood for who she was, she believed in God, her faith but most of all herself and the pledge she made to us all. She stayed true to her values, how many of us can truly and honestly say we have done that?
The last of the zig-zags in Victoria Park when we thought we were nearly there, actually went on for two more hours! Endless… we were almost dizzy, but so clever to keep us moving towards our prize.
But finally, finally after the airport style security (more cheerful policemen!) we reached the steps of Westminster Hall and a hush descended upon us all. A reverent and silent queue formed as we were gently divided into two lanes, not caring for the first time that the 13 were separated, we went in “alone”.
At the top of the steps we entered the ancient and historical walls of Westminster Hall (built by William II in 1097), the sight that greeted us was utterly and unexpectedly wholly surreal. We knew what we were going to SEE, we had all seen it already on the live feed. However, we did not know how we would FEEL.
For me, as I have said, it was life-changing, a feeling I have never known, a wholeness of peace and cleansing and release crept through my very soul, a calming shiver almost, I do not remember anyone around me as I came down the steps and moved around the coffin. I stopped and curtsied, bowed and blessed myself, and I whispered my thanks. I felt I was in the presence of something far higher than me, a God, a Universe, a higher being. I just stared transfixed at this blessed coffin, the crown, orb, cross, sceptre and those flowers that had been with her since Balmoral. I cannot tell you how absolutely astonishing it was. Probably 3 minutes in all, and I backed away, I kept looking for as long as I could then realised I must move on. I took one last glance over my shoulder I came back to myself again, as I left the great doors, back into the outside world, I took some very long deep breaths.
The moment had passed but it has not gone! That moment will never leave me. I felt renewed and almost re-born. I took those feelings away from Westminster Hall, I have held them inside me, never to be lost, they are mine forever. I have revisited them inside me for two days now and I have recalled myself to the calm and glow I felt in those most precious of moments. This morning as I sat quietly on a beautiful hill in the sunshine, near to my home, I felt so very grateful to have been able, physically able, to go and not only share the Queue, the Pilgrimage with these 13 wonderful women -but to also share with them a silent goodbye to The One, the most special woman of all, our beacon for women everywhere, our shining light, our example for us to all follow, our Queen, not the Our Lady the Queen of heaven but Elizabeth, the Queen of the World.
One of my companions, Sue, and I were then interviewed by Sky TV after coming out of Westminster Hall. I have no idea what I said, I was in such a daze, but I did manage to say that we should all live by her example and her values.
Afterwards when we all went our separate ways, we each one of us knew we were so very appreciative for the once in a lifetime day we had shared together. Her Majesty would have been very proud of us all.
God Save the King.
7.20am Walked from London Bridge tube to Southwark Park
8.45 We started walking, talking, laughing, bonding.
12.25 Wristbands handed out at Tower Bridge. This meant we would make it into the Hall. Queue jumpers who tried to join there were evicted pronto by us and others! We had a long wait here so I lay on grass, stretched every limb yoga style and ate my lunch.
1pm We were off!
1.30 HMS Belfast
13.52 London Bridge
14.30 Southwark Bridge
15.30 Blackfriars Bridge
16.30 Waterloo Bridge
18.00 Westminster Bridge
18.40 Lambeth Bridge
19.00 Final zigzag Victoria Tower Gardens
20.55 We entered Westminster Hall. Saw a guard change.
21.10 We exited Westminster Hall
Libbla Kelly is an author and positivity and wellbeing coach. Check out her website here for her expertise and help on navigating the challenges of midlife.
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