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by Louise Wilson
25 September 2022
Sketch: The queen of all queues

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: The queen of all queues

“One of the highlights of my life,” the very last mourner from The Queue told the BBC upon exiting Westminster Hall. It would have been more accurate to describe filing by the Queen’s coffin as two of the highlights of her life, for she had loved it so much the first time that she went and queued again.

“An experience that I’ll never forget,” another Queuer said of the hours-long wait and brief glimpse of a wooden box on a catafalque (if nothing else, we have all at least learned a new word in recent weeks).

Another devotee said: “I’ve come out here tonight because I feel as though I’ve lost something – and I know what that is. It is our dear Queen.” Well, indeed. Good to know he wasn’t so completely shaken by the bereavement that he forgot who’d died.

He continued: “To me, she’s not just the people’s Queen. She’s my personal Queen.” Not sure how the other 749,999 people who queued alongside him will feel about him claiming Queen Elizabeth as his own personal monarch, but grief can make you do strange things, I suppose.

Grief can leave you in a weird state of flux. You can frequently be unsure about whether you are coming or going. It can be easy to forget how to go about normal life. And so was it any surprise that so much of this country embraced The Queue?

As well as the three quarters of a million people who participated in The Queue – possibly the greatest live performance art piece in British history – 7.5 million people tuned into the live feed across the four days Her Majesty was lying in state. We became obsessed with its length, its speed, the people willing to wait more than 24 hours, with little to do, just to quietly file past a coffin. It was a feat of endurance.

The Queen was, of course, used to people waiting on her. And many more people got to enjoy the experience of waiting on the Queen. Even in death, she is giving.

“In this era of selfies and emojis and online posts, it seems that what we’ve discovered is the advantages of being social without the media, because The Queue for many people is as much about the journey, as it is about the destination,” the BBC’s Nick Robinson said in his report about The Queue.

The death of royalty allowed people to come together as one, united, each creating a segment, joining together to make a centipede slowly crawling through London. And much like any good creepy-crawly, the centipede was able to survive whilst all around it the country fell.

The Queue was the one constant, much like Her Maj herself, that kept the country going in dark times. When supermarkets shut, when Center Parcs threatened to close, when children’s football matches were cancelled, and food banks closed  (it’s what she would have wanted, after all), The Queue went on. Growing. Shapeshifting. Constantly moving.

Charities and the emergency services provided sustenance and blankets for the loyal, royal-Queuers. Over 500 Portaloos were set up along its length, because we are a dignified people. Wristbands were handed out to allow people to briefly leave The Queue whilst maintaining their place in The Queue. We are not barbarians.

It was, media from around the world said, “quintessentially British”. The UK was without its Queen, but citizens retained their knowledge of what is good, and right, and proper. To queue in The Queue, or to queue in the queue for The Queue, was a sign of strength. We had lost our head of state but we had absolutely, categorically, not lost our heads.

“There was even a designated last-in-Queue person: a marshal equipped with a big, black flag that reads ‘Lying-In-State, Queue Starts Here’,” marveled CNN.

“A triumph of Britishness in a country that prides itself on its queueing finesse,” reported Le Monde.

“Americans like to call it a ‘line,’ but that word doesn’t quite encompass the almost holy rule-bound nature the British have developed of waiting patiently behind someone to achieve a goal,” explained The Washington Post.

And nothing irks British people more than those who do not know proper queueing etiquette. Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby learned that the hard way when allegations of queue-skipping surfaced. They may as well have danced on the Queen’s grave. ITV was quick to intervene, saying the pair were there for work – not as an extra-curricular.

“Please know that we would never jump a queue,” a statement from the morning presenters said afterwards. They respect not just The Queue, but any queue, they insist as they try to restore their credentials as Brits. After all, who on (this very small bit of) Earth would want to tune in and listen to two people who couldn’t even bring themselves to follow standard queueing decorum? Certainly not this writer. All hail the mighty Beckham who learned to bend it (The Queue), well, like Beckham…

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