What it was like to be in the Queen’s lying-in-state queue
Last week I stated that I expected my cousin Yaa Grace, a London resident and long-time devotee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to be among the first in the queue on Monday, September 19, to observe the Westminster Abbey funeral, too. But I guessed wrong.
Actually, after her marathon Westminster Hall lying-in-state queuing, she didn’t return there. Instead, on September 19, she set off at dawn to catch a train to Windsor (some 25 miles away) to wait for the funeral cortege from London. She wanted to be present at Windsor Castle where the Queen was scheduled to be buried.
Interestingly, Yaa Grace or formally Grace Yeboah-Afari, now has a new title, ‘Grace the third in line’, she told me in a telephone chat earlier this week.
No, the title doesn’t mean that she is third in line of succession to a traditional stool in Ampenkro, our ancestral village in the Dormaa District of the Bono Region. The appellation is simply memorable confirmation that she was the third person in the queue to see the Queen lying-in-state at Westminster Hall on Wednesday, September 14.
The number written on the band she was given by the queue minders is “000003”. The first person in the queue was a Vanessa, from Sri Lanka; the second was Annie from Wales. Similarly, their bands read ‘Vanessa, the first in line’, and ‘Annie, the second in line’.
The coveted bands, marked “not transferrable”, were to enable the recipients go to the washroom or attend to urgent business for a short period without losing their place in the queue.
Thus it was that, as if planned, three women from different parts of the Commonwealth, of which the Queen was the Head, were the first to begin the queuing on Monday, September 12. They were at the head of the queue of thousands waiting to pay their respects when the doors of the Hall were opened to the public on Wednesday, September 14.
She explained how the three of them came to lead the queue: She had met Annie when she attended the unveiling of a statue in the Kensington Palace Garden on July 1, last year, to mark what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Annie, another royalist, had come over from Wales for the unveiling and the two became friends.
On Monday, September 12, Annie had called Grace and they met up in central London late afternoon, at a place where they expected the queue to be. However, they saw no sign of a queue; but a woman whom they later got to know as Vanessa was there by chance. She had been going for a walk when the sight of scores of media attracted her there.
When they asked the officials around where the queue was, the response was “You are the queue”! It was from Tuesday that other people started joining them, Grace said.
Anyhow, the trio had secured their precious places in the queue – and also secured their places in the lying-in-state history.
Eventually, an official brought them numbered wristbands, which have now reportedly become collector’s items. Those free, paper queue bands are said to be selling online for as much as nearly £500 (more than GH¢5,000).
So will she sell hers? “Never! The wristbands for the three of us are very special; and don’t forget that ours go with our titles. No matter how broke I am I will never sell mine; not even for a million pounds.”
That Monday, September 12, the three early birds were offered chairs and even a table by well-wishers. Later, others brought them refreshments and in the night somebody brought them something to spread on the ground to lie on; and the police gave them protection.
When it started raining, another kind person brought them a tent.
Still, personal hygiene was a problem. She said she dashed to a nearby shopping area to buy a toothbrush and a few other essentials. There were portable toilets around, but they were not very sanitary, so she preferred going into nearby establishments, where she could also clean herself properly.
How did she feel on entering the Hall, filing past the closed coffin? “I was in tears.” She added that apart from her grief at the loss of someone she admires so much, the scene also brought back sad memories of other deaths, family deaths. “I was very emotional.”
But why does she have such love for the Queen, so much so that even among her relatives and friends, when talking to her they refer to the Queen as “your mother’?
She told me: “I can’t explain it. I just love her. It’s a natural thing. All I can say is that I admire her.”
The greatest irony, for someone known as a dedicated Queen fan, is that she never had the opportunity to even get close to the Queen! Not even during royal occasions when Her Majesty would walk around and exchange pleasantries with the crowd; strangely, that never happened.
Nevertheless, she likes to attend royal functions. And usually, she sports an outfit made from the Union Jack – the name of the flag of the United Kingdom – sewn by herself, sometimes with matching flag accessories.
Not surprisingly, Grace’s flag outfits always attract media attention, so the press who cover the royals have grown to know her.
Given the extreme discomfort, was the three days queuing worth it, when she could have watched it on TV? “Most definitely, it was worth it! It was a matter of determination and devotion,” she told me.
On Windsor, Grace estimates that the crowd there was much bigger than the London one, because, seemingly, many wanted to be present at the burial of their beloved Queen. After the funeral service, even making her way back to the train station was an ordeal, because of the mass of people.
It is reported that the Queen’s final resting place at Windsor has been marked with a new ledger stone in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.
The Guardian newspaper reports that “the stone slab bears the name of the late Queen, her husband and her parents.”
No surprise to hear Yaa Grace say that when the public is given access to view the new slab, the “in-line” trio will surely be present. And, of course she will be very proud that Ampenkro village will be part of that history, too.