Robert Jackman

How to survive the queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state

  • From Spectator Life
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The news that mourners may have to line up for 35 hours to pay their respects to the late Queen has made headlines – and unsurprisingly so. They say we Brits love queueing, but surely that love affair has its limits. 

Elizabeth II’s lying-in-state in Westminster Hall is open to the public 24 hours a day, from 5 p.m. today until 6.30 a.m. on Monday. Last night Whitehall released the details of the military-style logistics operation that they hope will see the event run as smoothly as possible – with more than 300,000 mourners expected to form a five-mile human line stretching from SW1 along the South Bank and past HMS Belfast into the borough of Southwark. 

While the official plan doesn’t confirm or deny the ‘35 hours’ reports, mourners have been told to brace themselves for a long haul – with a million people expected to head into London ahead of the funeral on Monday. So if you’re one of them, what can you do to make the wait as comfortable as possible?

For food, look to places that aren’t predominantly seen as restaurants. The Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square has a 24-hour food menu and plenty of seating

Like any big venture, the most important thing is to plan ahead. In his famous hierarchy of needs, American psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that humans take care of the basics first, namely their physiological needs – which means food, water and toilet breaks.

Of course you don’t have to have spent much time in central London to realise that it isn’t particularly good for any of those things – toilets in particular. We should be grateful, then, that Whitehall has promised that ‘extra welfare facilities’ will be available, which means plenty of portable loos.

They’ve also realised what many of us London-walkers have known for a while: that galleries, theatres and opera houses are an excellent place to spend a penny. The likes of the Southbank Centre, the National Theatre and the Globe have all said they will open their doors for those needing a comfort break. 

For those hoping to hold a spot in the queue for a later arrival, Mary Killen has advice – and points out ‘that the prevailing atmosphere in this historic queue will be civilised, in keeping with the spirit of our former Queen’. A ‘zoning’ system – through which mourners will be given different coloured wristbands – will be in place too, allowing sections of the queue to take a break and return to their spot later on. In theory, this should let everyone have something resembling a lunch break. Just don’t bet on it being at lunchtime. 

Credit: DCMS

Of course, actually getting food might be easier said than done. If you’ve been to the area recently, you’ll know that there are Hollywood nightclubs that are easier to get into than the Southbank Wahaca. As a West End veteran, my advice is to think outside of the box. Instead of the obvious options, look to places that serve food but aren’t predominantly seen as restaurants. The wonderful Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square has a 24-hour food menu and plenty of seating. Likewise, the lounge area of the Curzon cinema is always a good place for a quiet drink or a bite to eat.

Like a long-haul flight, the other big challenge is keeping your mind occupied. The BFI says it will be showing footage of the Queen on its outdoor screens. But even the most ardent royalist can be forgiven for feeling a tad fatigued with those archive reels by now. Much better to take a decent book (or a copy of The Spectator).

Alternatively, use your phone to stock up on podcasts (don’t forget that BBC Sounds has a whole vault of Radio 4 documentaries stretching back more than a decade) or audiobooks. Just make sure that you download them in advance: not only does it save you from being at the mercy of patchy mobile internet, but it’s also much kinder on your phone battery.

Even then, though, it’s probably best to carry a portable charger. Don’t be fooled by the false economy of opting for the cheapest one. My trusty Duracell power-bank – £40 from Argos – is entering its fourth year of service and still going strong. It also does multiple charges in one sitting, meaning I can lend it to others if necessary.

Finally, make sure you don’t overpack. A major security operation means that large bags are forbidden, with the official guidance stressing that storage space will be ‘limited’ (you can probably assume that’s an understatement). If you are travelling in from outside London, it might be worth using Stasher: an Airbnb-style app which lets you pay to store your bags in hotels and elsewhere.

And if problems do arise, you can at least depend on the army of 1,000 volunteers (including from the Samaritans, Scouts and the British Red Cross) who have been drafted in to ensure things run smoothly. Don’t forget to be patient, though – they’re up against it too. It’s going to be a long one.