Tens of thousands of mourners Thursday faced nine-hour queues to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II, as her grandson Prince William said walking behind her coffin stirred challenging memories of following his mother Diana's casket as a teenager.
Royal officials have pledged a “fitting tribute” to Britain's longest-serving monarch as they revealed she would be buried alongside her husband Prince Philip in Windsor Castle following Monday's state funeral at Westminster Abbey.
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth, who died a week ago aged 96 after 70 years on the throne, is set to draw leaders and royalty from around the world.
It will follow four full days of her coffin lying in state at neighbouring Westminster Hall. The casket is lying on a catafalque in the middle of the vast 11th-century building.
Draped in the Royal Standard flag, the casket is adorned with the Imperial State Crown, her ceremonial Orb and Sceptre, while tall, flickering candles stand at each corner.
Mourners — many waiting through the night — have been queueing to file past and pay their last respects to the much-loved monarch during the first full day of the lying in state.
Tears and final salutes
“It's very peaceful,” Londoner Rupa Jones, 43, told AFP after emerging from the hall, the oldest part of Britain's parliament, calling the experience “overwhelming”.
She and her aunt had queued for nearly seven hours through the night for their fleeting moment in front of the coffin.
The sombre atmosphere inside was completed by guards in ceremonial uniform posted around the podium in a constant vigil. One fainted overnight.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, as a member of the monarch's bodyguard in Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers, took a turn on guard.
Mourners marked their moment in front of the coffin in various ways, from bows or curtsies to the sign of the cross or by simply removing their hats.
Some wiped away tears with tissues. Others brought infants in pushchairs. Old soldiers stopped and gave one last salute to their former commander-in-chief.
Former prime minister Theresa May was among those who filed past the coffin.
By 5:30 pm (1630 GMT), the queue had grown to 4.2 miles (6.75 kilometres) long on the south bank of the River Thames, with an estimated queueing time of at least nine hours.
Organisers have prepared up to 10 miles of queueing infrastructure, with expectations that hundreds of thousands will participate, in particular over the weekend.
Musician Jacqui Smith, among those in line overnight, was sad but enthusiastic about the reign of the new king.
“I've been waiting for it for a long time,” she told AFP from Lambeth Bridge. “I love the queen, but I'm a real Charles fan.”
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who will give the sermon at the funeral, spoke to those queueing, soaking up mourners' experiences.
Prime Minister Liz Truss's spokesperson said: “The people of the United Kingdom are demonstrating not only respect for each other in queuing in such a responsible way and showing a great response to this situation.”
Painful memories of Diana
William and his wife Kate visited Sandringham, the royal family's private winter retreat in eastern England, to view the floral tributes.
Thousands greeted the couple as they shook hands with members of the public, with Kate receiving a stream of colourful bunches of flowers.
Led by his father, the new King Charles III, William, his younger brother Prince Harry and other members of the royal family walked behind Queen Elizabeth's coffin as it was taken on a gun carriage in a ceremonial procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on Wednesday.
William, now the heir to the throne and the new Prince of Wales, revealed that the walk had brought back painful memories, after doing the same for his mother Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
“Doing the walk yesterday was challenging. It brought back a few memories,” William, 40, told a group of well-wishers, Sky News footage showed.
In 1997, William and Harry, then aged 15 and 12, moved the world by walking behind their late mother's coffin.
“It's one of those moments when you think to yourself: I've prepared myself for this, but I'm not that prepared,” William told mourners at Sandringham.
Funeral plans revealed
The first details from the funeral plans — the first state funeral in Britain since that of Queen Elizabeth's first prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965 — were revealed on Thursday by organiser Edward Fitzalan-Howard.
As the Earl Marshal, a hereditary role belonging to the Dukes of Norfolk since 1672, Fitzalan-Howard has spent the last two decades preparing for the queen's funeral.
“The queen held a unique and timeless position in all our lives,” he told reporters.
“It is our aim and belief that… the next few days will unite people across the globe and resonate with people of all faiths, whilst fulfilling Her Majesty and her family's wishes to pay a fitting tribute to an extraordinary reign.”
“The respect, admiration and affection in which The Queen was held make our task both humbling and daunting — an honour and a great responsibility,” he added.
More than 2,000 guests are expected to pack the historic abbey at 1000 GMT Monday for a church service dedicated to her life and reign.
US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and French President Emmanuel Macron have all confirmed their attendance, as have Japan's Emperor Naruhito and numerous other royals.
After the service, the coffin will be transferred by royal hearse to her Windsor Castle home, west of London, before a committal service at St George's Chapel at 1500 GMT.
Queen Elizabeth will be buried together with her husband Prince Philip, who died in April last year aged 99.
His coffin has been resting since then in the chapel vault.
They will both be buried in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, alongside Queen Elizabeth's parents, king George and his wife queen Elizabeth, and the ashes of her sister princess Margaret.
“The service and burial will be entirely private, given it is a deeply personal family occasion,” a senior palace official said.
King Charles, 73, was spending the day working from Highgrove, his family home in southwest England.
“People who have worked with the king know just how resilient and hardworking he is,” his spokesman told reporters.
“Anyone who saw the king in Westminster Hall yesterday could see that he was reflecting and mourning for his mother.
“Today his focus will be on state business and ensuring that state business is complete, before another busy travel programme.”