LONDON: Ceremonial gun salutes, the tolling of bells across churches and a crush of humanity — these were the scenes across the country, especially outside the royal palaces, as her subjects mourned Queen Elizabeth the II.
The monarch, who ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for 70 years, had breathed her last, and the country was forced to confront a tomorrow without her. The adjustment was swift, disconcerting but certain.
As TV presenters referred to Charles with his new title, “King Charles”, and members of the public talked about how cash, coins and stamps would no longer feature the queen, it was evident that her legacy would live on in the hearts and minds of her people.
It was nearly impossible to reach the gates of Buckingham Palace on Thursday. Tens of thousands had rushed to the Queen’s London home as soon as they heard that she had passed away hundreds of miles away in Balmoral, Scotland.
“[I feel] absolutely broken,” said Terry, between sniffles. “I work in Canary Wharf, but when the news broke I came down here immediately. I am not an emotional guy but this one has me broken.”
It was clear that the news had hit members of the public hard. Many expressed their profound sadness and a feeling of overwhelming loss. Thousands left bouquets and handwritten notes as a token of their affection for the late monarch. Many of these were soaked in the rain.
“This is the day we never thought would come,” said Edward. “She was ever-present, ever-constant. Even though I am not a particular fan of royalty, I still wanted to come down. It’s a monumental event.”
“The general mood is quite melancholy. It’s not a shock, it’s a [sense of] realisation,” said Sam, one of the thousands who felt the need to pay a visit to the palace. “The country has lots of challenges, regardless of whether you are the king or new PM, there is a lot of uncertainty.”
“I came for the Platinum Jubilee, which happened just a few months ago, that was such a happy big celebration. This is such a contrast,” said one visitor.
First official appearance
For nearly everyone present there, Elizabeth II was the only queen they had ever known.
The following day, when people realised that King Charles would be greeting people outside the palace, it was difficult to get past the wide passage of Constitution Hill. The new king made his first official appearance, shaking hands with mourners and even getting a kiss on the cheek from one admirer.
Chants of “Long live the King!” and “God save the King!” echoed as he made his way through the crowds, exchanging a few words with teary members of the public.
One person said: “I don’t envy him [Charles]… he has grown up to do this job, but he could only do it when his mother died — what sort of legacy is that?”
It was a sobering thought.
Watching King Charles perform his duties with the stoicism and grace that had become synonymous with his mother just 24 hours after her passing spoke volumes of the nature of the job.
By mid-afternoon, King Charles III and Queen Camilla had already met crowds outside Buckingham Palace and even had his first audience with Prime Minister Liz Truss. Hours later, he made his first address to the nation as King.
“She was a permanent fixture,” said Elio, who had come to the palace to witness the beginning of this transition. “You only realise what she means when she is gone.”
Alison, who is from England but now lives in Canada, said, “I grew up knowing the Queen, she has always been part of my life. I feel sad.”
And what about Charles?
“I think he’s going to be just fine,” she added.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2022