In the interminable week since Queen Elizabeth II died, a number of truly confusing events have transpired, including the new King Charles getting upset about a pen, a marmalade-sandwich ban, and a conspiracy theory about Meghan Markle’s dress. But one thing in particular about the transition of the monarchy utterly, irrevocably broke me: a 22-hour, five-mile line of people waiting to see the queen’s coffin, known simply as the Queue.
For four days, the Queue was the hottest spot in England. Thousands of people waited for hours on end to get a brief visit with the queen, who was “lying in state” at Westminster Hall since Wednesday. Her closed casket, topped with a “visually overpowering” crown, was available for public viewing 24 hours a day until she was laid to rest at her state funeral on Monday. The Queue reportedly stretched around five miles, a more-than-24-hour wait.
The Queue was everything: an astounding feat of deranged fandom, a testament to the endurance of the human spirit, an exemplar of just how British Brits can be. People flocked from all over England to wait, with some of them camping out at the line two nights before it even started moving. The conditions sounded harrowing. In terms of food, there was apparently a lot of snack sharing going on, and cafés along the Queue’s route stayed open late so that people could stop in while someone saved their place. Some people even brought canned cocktails, because why not be tipsy while slowly walking for one entire night?
As for the rest, I can only describe it as somewhere between Burning Man and Black Friday eve at a Best Buy. Per the BBC, the Queue was “constantly moving,” so no one could sit down. The British government set up over 500 public toilets, water stands, and first-aid stations at various checkpoints, and nearby venues, including the Globe Theatre, also stayed open to provide extra bathrooms. There were several checkpoints where officials handed out wristbands that let you leave your spot to, I guess, drink water and pee before you resume your tortured coffin march. Once visitors were inside the palace, they shuffled past the closed coffin in total silence without stopping once, because one thing is of utmost importance: Never slow down the Queue.
At one point, David Beckham and his newsboy cap joined the fray — the Daily Mail was quick to point that he, a lad of the people, “queued with the public” and waited over 12 hours to see the queen’s fancy little box.
This madness dragged on until Friday morning, when the U.K. government suddenly announced that the Queue had reached capacity and no one would be able to join it for at least six hours. Naturally, everyone was furious, but that didn’t stop people from continuing to get in line: A second queue quickly emerged inside the holding area where people were waiting to get into the original Queue. Several hours later, the Queue was reopened, and this subqueue presumably joined the original Queue, forming one monstrous SuperQueue.
As many people on Twitter have pointed out, the Queue was rife with dramatic opportunity. And plenty of drama did emerge. Certain high-position government officials were allowed to skip the Queue and bring up to four guests with them, and yet the people who work for those officials, including hundreds of Parliament cleaners and security guards, were still required to line up. The pause in admissions only intensified people’s fury at this (admittedly predictable) display of elitism. Meanwhile, some of England’s more enterprising citizens sold Queue wristbands for $400 on eBay, which was not making anyone feel better about walking in a line for 22 hours straight. Much more alarming was the 19-year-old man who allegedly sexually assaulted multiple women in the line, reportedly pressing his exposed penis against their backs before jumping into the Thames in an attempt to escape police.
In a dispatch from Hyde Park on Sunday, the Cut’s deputy style director, Joanna Nikas, heard from several women who survived the queue. “She was a beacon for women in a very male-dominated world, and unfortunately for the next five decades, we are going to be ruled by men again,” said Sue Clark, 57, who was leaving flowers in Hyde Park. “I sing ‘God Save the Queen’ quite a lot. ‘God Save the King’ doesn’t trip off the tongue in the same way.”
Clark was there with her friend Shan Fletcher, 59, who, a day earlier, traveled 3 hours and waited 13 hours in the Queue to see the queen’s casket. The next day, Clark brought her granddaughters Alana and Sophia so they could leave flowers: “The girls are here because they will see three monarchs in their lifetime, but only one queen.”
“We have so much to put up with as women, and at least when she was there it felt like we had a bit more standing in society because we were led by a queen,” said Clark. “I worry that it might be eroded now.” Clark waited ten and a half hours in the queue. (She had little “snackettes” and used the bathroom in the Globe: “I always wanted to go to the Globe. I didn’t think the first time would be to use the facilities,” she said, laughing.) She finally got to see the queen at 5:20 a.m. and afterward went straight to bed. “I was awake for 29 hours and standing up for most of that. The whole experience was quite overwhelming.”
The Queue went on until 6 a.m. BST Monday. Clearly, several decades from now, an entire season of The Crown will take place on the Queue. Anyway, here’s a link to send a virtual condolence message to the royal family.