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.
“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.