Huge crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday evening to pay respects to the only British monarch most had ever known.
As news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II spread across the United Kingdom, people flooded to the royal residence to lay flowers and light candles.
Nicholas Player, 41, a London tour guide, said he “felt a chill” when he heard that doctors had become concerned about the Queen’s health earlier in the day.
“She’s the grandmother of the nation, really… She’s a part of everyone’s lives,” he told CNN of the Queen, whose reign spanned seven decades.
After giving a tour in the morning, Player returned to Buckingham Palace to await an update on the Queen’s health, with a premonition that it was “important” to be present at her main residency, he said.
That impulse was shared by many – as the afternoon progressed, more and more people gathered outside the gates of the famous palace, underneath the balcony from which the Queen greeted the public on so many occasions over the course of her life.
As the crowds swelled throughout the day, so did the uncertainty.
Sue and Michael Ensor, 69 and 73, were visiting London from England’s South Coast on Thursday.
“When we heard that the Queen was not very well we thought we’d come straight down,” Michael Ensor told CNN.
“I wanted to show my love for the Queen. I can’t go to Balmoral. But coming to Buckingham Palace is the nearest I could get, as it were, to be with her. If she was my mother, I would want to be there holding her hand,” he said.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come down here was to pray for her,” Sue Ensor added. “We are Christians and recognize that she has a very strong faith.”
As the work day ended, many more people joined the crowds outside Buckingham Palace. Doctors, therapists, teachers and students all told CNN that they had rushed to be there as they anxiously awaited the next announcement.
At around 6:30 pm local time, a hush fell over the crowd, as news broke of the Queen’s death at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Palace staff soon confirmed the news, posting a framed letter between the bars of the palace’s iron fence. It read, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.”
Diljit Kaur Kundra, 51, and his wife, Kamaljit Singh Kundra, 50, from Coventry, told CNN they had come to London for a tour of Buckingham Palace after taking a tour of Windsor Castle that morning.
Despite the worrying news about the concerns over the Queen’s health earlier in the day, staff at Buckingham Palace “kept a straight face,” Kamaljit Singh Kundra said.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Kundras decided to join the crowd outside of Buckingham Palace after their tour.
“[The Queen] touched everyone’s lives, lots of generations,” she added.
Phoebe Thompson, 21, and James Cox, 24, from Bristol, were only passing through London on their way to Paris for a holiday. But a canceled flight put them in position to head to Buckingham Palace.
Thompson says Queen Elizabeth was “an idol” for her. “I would like to have a cup of tea with her,” she said.
Cox’s brother served on two tours of Afghanistan “in the name of the Queen,” Cox said.
“She’s always kept the country together in moments like this,” he added. “It’s quite uncertain now,” he added, referencing the country’s current political and economic tumult.
Highlighting how much has changed in the UK since the Queen took the throne over 70 years ago, Thompson said she’d learned a lot about her from hit Netflix show The Crown.
Many others in the crowd were posting updates to social networks including Instagram and TikTok – scenes that would have been impossible to imagine back during the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
Many of the mourners told CNN the respect commanded by the Queen has not ebbed in all her years on the throne.
James Penny, 22, an economic advisor, was visibly upset when he saw the red, white and blue Union Jack flag on top of Buckingham Palace being lowered to half-mast – a signal of the Queen’s passing.
“The Queen has always been a role model of stability and consistency,” he said.
As the night drew in, the crowd fanned out. People began to lodge bunches of flowers between the bars of the Palace gates. Despite the rain, some lit candles, with the shows of respect for the departed Queen likely to continue late into the night.
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