The 10 days I’ve been here since Elizabeth’s death have taken me from the lavish interiors of Windsor Castle – the official residence of the royal family – to forgotten boroughs beyond the bustle of London, the capital British capital.
I stood in line for hours with strangers devoted to the queen and desperate to say my final goodbyes. Standing in the rain with thousands of people hoping to see the hearse zipping towards the majestic gates of Buckingham Palace. I have witnessed countless tears fall from young and old, from people as far away as South Africa to the British city of Reading.
In the space between the devoted and the indifferent, I have met Britons who appear conflicted or undecided about the importance of the monarchy in their lives – or completely indifferent.
Diaspora communities, whose ancestors suffered through the brutality of British colonialism, are still struggling to come to terms with that legacy. A generation of young immigrants has yet to reconcile that history of violence with their own identity as British. Some have told me that they consider themselves “Londonians” – identified with the stylish, cosmopolitan capital – but not as “British”, the part of the UK where the monarch is head of state. family.
I have also met people who are completely uninterested.
Several weekend getaways have been planned to avoid crowds swooning over the late monarch. A constant stream of Twitter memes mocking the queen’s demise.
Yet history still weighs heavily inside St George’s Chapel in Windsor on Monday, the day of Elizabeth’s funeral.
Founded in the 14th century by King Edward III, the ornate chapel has belonged to the monarchy for 1,000 years. It is the site of many royal events, from funerals to christenings to royal weddings like those of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Ornate stone craftsmanship draws attention to the elliptical roof, meticulous and irreplaceable woodwork that make the way towards the catafalque. Here, the chapel’s chapter secretary told a group of reporters that every step of the commitment ceremony, a gathering more intimate than a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, had been planned by the queen. carefully planned.
Every hymn was chosen by her, except for the last one.
The salesman explained that removing the crown was an extraordinary moment. Though steeped in royal spectacle, it embodies a moment of dramatic change: moving from the head of the king’s coffin to the altar, only to return to the head of a new king – King Charles III – when he ascended the throne.
However, much of the country is unaware of the intimate details of the life of their beloved late monarch – they have spent their lives watching from afar.
Rachel Mfundiri, who was still standing outside the castle’s majestic gates after Elizabeth was dissuaded, said: “We couldn’t get as close as we wanted to see it properly. She came to witness history but now that it’s over, she has absolutely no idea where to go.
“Not knowing what will happen next, to see how the monarchy changes,” she said, as the first raindrops of the day began to fall. “So sad, very sad.”
In London, it’s business as usual.
Restaurants and bars are packed with tourists until late in the day. In a bar, a singer dressed in 1930s garb raised a toast – “to our lovely queen,” she said, followed by “but I can’t dedicate this next song.” for her”. She began to sing the tune of George Michael as the audience cheered.
I found support for the late queen in unexpected places.
Inside London’s Central Mosque, an old photo of Elizabeth’s father, King George VI is plastered next to bulletins announcing recent events.
The late king opened the Islamic Cultural Center, now part of a large mosque complex, in 1944, in recognition of the Muslim efforts to fight alongside the British Empire in The War II.
“We have always had a close connection with the monarchy,” said Ayaz Zuberi, a spokesman for the mosque.
Even among Elizabeth’s ardent supporters, it is impossible to generalize their personal reasons for wanting to pay tribute to her years of service. For many, it’s personal: A family member has just passed away, a deep sense of respect still lingers.
Or, in the case of Mili Patel, wanting to show her young daughter the importance of the past.
Patel had folded his lawn chair and was walking off the lawn of the Long Walk, the path to Windsor Castle. She was accompanied by her daughter Sybill, arriving at 5am and staying 12 hours to see the queen – or at least her coffin – one last time.
“That will be the last queen of (my daughter’s) generation,” she said. “I want her to see it.”
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