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Making friends and sharing sandwiches: What it’s really like in The Queue to see the Queen

It’s a solemn occasion, but in the queue to see the Queen lying in state you’ll find new friendships being struck up

Approaching a lady in a luminous pink blazer, chatting away with two people in The Queue to see the Queen lie in state at the houses of parliament, it would be easy to assume they were a group of lifelong friends.

“Oh no, we met in the queue,” she says, pointing to her new friend. “And we got off the tube at the same time and just got chatting from there really.”

It was the same story for hundreds of metres, as groups of former strangers posed for selfies and shared sandwiches. The social contract binding Londoners – no eye contact on the tube, only weirdos speak to strangers – has been suspended. A solemn occasion has become a chance to bond.

The growing queue was accompanied by warnings of “horrible stories of suffering”, as people hunkered down overnight and the elderly struggled to cope. A government-created livestream showed exactly how far it stretched (3.1 miles at 10am). You’d be forgiven for expecting an endless line of glum-faced, stoic mourners.

That may come to pass, but had not done so when the Big Issue arrived, speaking to people as they passed the National Covid Memorial Wall and began the final stage of The Queue. Instead, The Queue has become a national event in its own right.

Queen queue
Strangers shared sandwiches and bonded in the Queen Queue. Image: Eliza Pitkin/Big Issue

“Everyone’s cheerful, happy, and they’re all here for the same reason,” a group of sisters, draped in bunting with the Queen’s face having come from Poole to pay their respects, told us. Which is perhaps not what you expect to hear. Others described it as a wonderful experience, as well as a time to reflect.

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Rather than having endured overnight, the majority, at this point, had been in The Queue for just a couple of hours. It was moving fast until after Lambeth bridge, where the final part of The Queue joins the gardens outside the houses of parliament and turns into a concertina described by a police officer as “the snake”.

Uniforms and medals were a common sight in the Queen Queue. Image: Eliza Pitkin/Big Issue

People had come from all over the country, and boarded trains at startling hours. Some, sustained by only sandwiches and water – or even just coffee – were prepared to stay as long as need be. Others, with a supply of gluten-free bars, hope they make it before the last train home. There’s even a couple with M&S tins of gin, cracked open before the clock struck 11.

Perhaps people are putting a brave face on it. After all, this means enough to them to give up a day or more. As one man, who served in the army, puts it: “The least I can do is pay my sincere respects.”

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