With Her Majesty’s funeral concluded, and the flags returning to full mast, this seems like the moment to note my own experiences around the historic events of the last few weeks.
It seems that almost everyone had a memory of the Queen, or one connected with her. It says something for Her work ethic that She touched the lives of so many, not to mention the length of time for which She was a part of the national fabric.
My own recollection, or at least the most recent, will be the Thursday night on which it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II had passed, and which I spent in the rain outside of Buckingham Palace.
As my photographic stories usually do, this one started with a journey. I was in London, hoping to photograph the promised demonstration by Extinction Rebellion as part of my ongoing project. I was on the train when my phone started chiming to tell me that HM was under “medical supervision” at Balmoral, and I was in a hotel on the City Road when the TV announced that the Queen was dead and Long Live The King.
Predictably, I grabbed the camera and got out of the door. Charing Cross, Trafalgar and then down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. And I was not the only one. The walk down the Mall – no traffic, not that night, wasn’t congested, but it was more people than you’d expect for a wet Thursday in September.
The focal point became the Victoria Memorial, the statues at the centre of the fountains. There were lot of people, flags, candles. As I arrived a small group were singing Jerusalem. For all that, I wouldn’t describe the atmosphere as one of sadness exactly – HM was after all 96 years old, and could hardly be said to have gone before her time. People were there to mourn of course, but there was also a sense of history taking its course. And of people wanting to be there for the moment that it did. And of gratitude, and loss and the passage of time.
And then the rain, which had merely been threatening, became torrential.
I’m not sure what one is supposed to wear while mourning a monarch in the rain outside a palace. A black raincoat with a pinstriped suit and a bowler hat probably. I didn’t have time to check Debrett’s. When travelling and trying to pack light, my response to torrential rain is the waterproof poncho which folds into a compartment of my camera bag. It’s large enough to cover me, my rucksack full of expensive cameras, and whatever camera is around my neck, while keeping that camera accessible. So. If anyone else was there and noticed a man in flecktarn camo (it was the cheapest option), then that was me.
And so I wandered around the periphery. The floral tributes were stacking up at the palace gates. There were a few police, and when I’d arrived I’d found black cabs lined up in on the mall in their own tribute. People stood, sat, hung flags, took pictures.
Reporters spoke to the camera in a dozen languages. I took pictures.
And then after a while I left. Walked back down the mall, passing people with flowers who were going the other way.
I was back the next morning. Again the rain was intermittent, but when it came it came down hard. More people now. More flowers, more pictures. There was a queue to lay tributes, and more police doing crowd control. More reporters, some around the memorial, the most of them under the field tents set up along the edge of Green Park.
After a while came the Household Cavalry.
By this time people were lined up behind the barriers, and I was there when I photographed the Royal Horse Artillery as they came past. I didn’t wait much longer – I’d seen what was going on, and the media would cover every angle from here. I walked back down the mall, as the canon started to echo as they fired the salute from the park.
There it is then. My story of where I was when I heard, my story featuring the Queen. Not a special one, nor an unusual one. Just an odd twist of fate that put me outside the palace that night.
Did the monarch’s death catch me by surprise? Maybe, maybe not. If you’d asked me a few days earlier, I’d have said that perhaps she might be around a few more years – her mother lived to be 101. But then how many couples have you seen, where after decades of marriage one has passed and the other followed? Her Majesty was the only monarch I’d ever know, or who my parents have known for that matter. Getting used to the change will be a long process.
History happens. Some days I can stand close enough to get a picture when it does.
HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II. 1926-2022. RIP.
SEND HER VICTORIOUS.