By JILL LAWLESS, DANICA KIRKA and MIKE CORDER
LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II’s eight grandchildren stood in silent vigil next to her coffin on Saturday, capping another huge day in which thousands of people came to pay their respects. Mourners crowded into a line that snaked through London, enduring the city’s coldest night in months and waits that lasted until 4 p.m.
Authorities warned colder weather was expected on Saturday evening. “Tonight’s forecast is cold. Warm clothes are recommended,” the ministry in charge of the line tweeted.
As US President Joe Biden and other world leaders and dignitaries traveled to London ahead of the Queen’s state funeral on Monday, a wave of people wishing to say goodbye poured into Parliament’s Westminster Hall for another day Saturday. This is where the queen’s coffin rests, draped in her royal standard and topped with a crown set with diamonds.
The number of mourners has steadily increased since the public was first admitted on Wednesday, with a queue that winds its way around Southwark Park and stretches for at least 8 kilometres.
Honoring their patience, King Charles III and his eldest son Prince William paid an unannounced visit on Saturday to greet those waiting to pass Elizabeth’s coffin, shaking hands and thanking mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.
Later, all of the Queen’s grandchildren stood by her coffin. William and Prince Harry, sons of Charles, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; the daughters of Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and Prince Edward’s two children – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
William, now the heir to the throne, stood with his head bowed at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. The two princes, who are military veterans, were in uniform. Mourners continued to march in silence.
Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British Army officer, wore civilian clothes earlier in the week as the Queen’s coffin left Buckingham Palace because he is no longer an active member of the Royal family. He and his wife Meghan left their royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020. The king, however, asked William and Harry to wear their military uniforms during the Westminster Hall vigil.
Ahead of the wake, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie released a statement praising their “beloved grandma”.
“We, like many, thought you would be here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our back leading us through this world. You have taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever,” the sisters wrote.
People lining up to see the Queen are of all ages and come from all walks of life. Many bowed before the coffin or made the sign of the cross. Several veterans, their medals sparkling, offered lively salutes. Some people cried. Others blew kisses. Many hugged as they walked away, proud to have spent hours queuing to pay their respects, even if it lasted only a few moments.
Overnight, volunteers handed out blankets and cups of tea to people queuing as temperatures dropped to 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite the weather, the mourners described the warmth of a shared experience.
“It was cold at night, but we had wonderful companions, met new friends. The camaraderie was wonderful,” said Chris Harman from London. “It was worth it. I would do it again and again and again. I would walk to the ends of the earth for my queen.
People had many reasons to come, from affection for the Queen to wanting to be part of a historic moment. Simon Hopkins, who traveled from his home in central England, compared it to “a pilgrimage”.
“(It’s) a little weird, because that kind of stuff goes against my grain,” he said. “I was kind of drawn into it.”
Saturday’s vigil followed Friday’s in which the Queen’s four children – Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward – stood vigil outside the coffin.
Edward said the Royal Family were “overwhelmed by the wave of emotions that engulfed us and the huge number of people who went out of their way to express their love, admiration and respect (for) our dear mum”.
On Saturday, the new king held audiences with new prime ministers, governors general of kingdoms and military leaders.
The Metropolitan Police arrested a man during the viewing on Friday evening on suspicion of a public order offence. Parliamentary authorities said someone stepped out of the queue and tried to approach the coffin.
Tracey Holland told Sky News her 7-year-old niece Darcy Holland was pushed aside by a man who tried to “run to the coffin, raise the standard and try to do I don’t know what”. She said police arrested the man in “two seconds”.
The in-state lie continues until Monday morning, when the Queen’s coffin will be transported to nearby Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, the final 10 days of national mourning for the longest-serving monarch in Britain. Elizabeth, 96, died at her estate of Balmoral in Scotland on September 8 after 70 years on the throne.
After Monday’s service at the Abbey, the late Queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on a horse-drawn carriage. She will then be taken by hearse to Windsor, where the Queen will be buried alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.
Hundreds of soldiers from the British army, air force and navy held an early morning rehearsal on Saturday for the final procession. As the troops lined up the scenic path leading to Windsor Castle, the thud of drums echoed through the air as marching bands marched past a hearse.
London police said the funeral would be the force’s biggest ever police event, surpassing even the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Platinum Jubilee in June celebrating 70 years of the Queen’s reign.
Follow AP coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii