Queen Elizabeth II: Mourners queue to pay respects
I made my way with sore feet and an aching back but no regrets, among the very first members of the public who had waited patiently, uncomplainingly and with great camaraderie since before dawn to pay their respects to the Queen.
Some mourners queued overnight to get a chance to see Her Majesty’s coffin
By then, the queue was a staggering 2.8miles long, snaking back across Lambeth Bridge like a sea of people and along the south side of the Thames, opposite the Houses of Parliament, all the way into south-east London.
Having passed through security, a hush had descended as we passed into the precincts of the Houses of Parliament, leaving us in almost total silence but for the shuffling of feet.
In the hall, some 300 of us at a time were directed into two queues, to pass on either side of the Queen’s Royal Standard-decked catafalque. The mood was sombre but proud. No-one spoke. There was a muffled sob or two.
The closed coffin towered ahead of us on its dais. As we drew nearer, there was a sudden signal, mourners halted and the guardsmen changed.
Beefeaters, their pikes carried reversed as a mark of respect, Blues & Royals and Lifeguards descended into the hall and processed across the chamber to take up the four-strong memorial guard round each corner of the platform.
It will be guarded in a continuous vigil by soldiers from units that serve the Royal Household. Their footsteps punctuated the deep silence.
As we stood, waiting for the signal to move again, I saw Labour leader Keir Starmer with his wife and children, paying their quiet respects.
The Queen’s coffin will lie in state until her funeral on Monday
The guard changed, we moved forward again, my heart beating faster as I stepped within a few feet of the raised platform.
Around me, several people bowed their heads, others curtsied, as did I. On the coffin, the Imperial State Crown, a wreath of white roses and dahlias and the Sovereign’s orb and sceptre sparkled in the light from above.
It was a scene I had spent hours anticipating. But nothing could quite prepare me for the poignancy and sense of occasion, the sheer majesty of this sombre moment.
In total, we spent less than ten minutes inside I suspect more than most will have – due to the changing of the ceremonial guard.
Was it worth it? Yes, of course. To be there as history was made. To pay tribute to the only Queen I have ever known in my life. This was a small moment of history for me, but one I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
To be among the estimated half a million ordinary people who will file past the catafalque 24 hours a day until 6.30am on Monday before her state funeral. The wait at the weekend has been estimated at up to 30 hours. I doubt that will put many people off.
Westminster Hall is a 900-year-old building with a vast timbered roof towering high above. Built in 1097, it is the oldest surviving building of the Palace of Westminster and at the heart of our democracy for nearly a millennium.
Mourners endured the rain to pay their respects
The last person to lie in state like this was the Queen Mother in 2002, when more than 200,000 people filed past to pay their respects over three days.
Before that, it was Queen Mary, King George V and King George VI. Winston Churchill was the only 20th century prime minister to have been afforded the honour of a lying-in-state ceremony. That is the sense of history under which we waited today.
My day started as I emerged from Trafalgar Square station under grey clouds shortly before 7am. After heavy downpours, a trail of mourners made their way towards Buckingham Palace among early-morning commuters.
Crowds three-deep already lined the barriers at Pall Mall. People talked in small groups, some seated in pop-up chairs, clutching cups of coffee to help them wake up.
Security guards dressed in high-vis yellow jackets huddled in small groups along the route the Queen’s gun carriage-borne coffin was due to take.
Tens of thousands of people had come to pay their final respects to the Monarch, and it was a heartening sight to see.
Conscious of time ticking on, I made my way to Westminster to join the queue forming to see the lying in state.
Some Royal fans camped out overnight on the Mall to see the Queen’s coffin procession
Its start, on the south side of Lambeth Bridge, had by now stretched halfway towards Westminster Bridge and I joined the line directly opposite the House of Commons, one the first few hundred people to arrive.
The mood was tranquil and reflective. There were warm smiles and hellos as we stood ready for as long as it took in order to partake in this momentous day.
I had anticipated reverent silence but people, from all ages and backgrounds, we’re keen to share their thoughts, memories and experiences of the Queen.
Many were dressed in black, in formal suits, others came in jeans and trainers, dressed comfortably for the impending wait.
It did not matter either way. The sense of occasion was keenly felt, the wish to be a part of history.
The first three people – all women – in the queue had travelled from Wales camped out under a gazebo in the pouring rain for the previous two nights.
On my left, I met Grandmother Doreen Hanrahan, 79, from Feltham, west London, who was with her good friend Lynne Froud, 60, from Woking.
The pair, devoted royalists, have attended numerous royal weddings over the years, and the Queen Mother’s funeral. Doreen even attended the Queen’s wedding to Prince Phillip as a bystander in November 1947.
Later, I saw both ladies in the distance, both looking as moved as I felt.
As we emerged into the sunshine, I could see people stretching back, a sea of faces. There is no doubt many feel this is an occasion they cannot miss.