It was 3.30pm when Leigh, Thony and James arrived at the back of the queue at Millennium Bridge to see the Queen lie in state.
None of them identified as royalists but had different reasons to come.
We’d never met but would spend the next six hours getting to know each other very well.
As the marshals came past us along the riverside we were given bright yellow wristbands, I would be the 4,251st person in line.
Construction worker Leigh Cooling had travelled from Tadley in Hampshire and arrived with a small bag and a black cap.
“My nan and grandad served in the army and so I’m coming for them today. I’m not a massive royalist but have an appreciation for what the Queen has done,” he told me.
The atmosphere was jolly, people were laughing and chatting, and those passing by may not have guessed that everyone had gathered for a sombre occasion.
We’d been warned that we could be waiting for up to 30 hours in the queue, although it didn’t look like many people were prepared for an overnight wait, with some wearing heels, shorts and suits.
“I bet we’ll be in before midnight,” said James Barber who stood behind me.
As we began moving slowly, Leigh called on another man in the queue who had been sitting down, Thony Llaavye.
As the four of us began to walk towards Westminster Leigh joked that we’d be “the crew” and from then on, we seemed to stick together.
James, who lives in Bicester, said he’d already had plans to be in London and decided to come to “pay his respects”. “It’s hard to describe, I just felt compelled to go,” he said.
Thony didn’t have much interest in the Royal Family, but admired the Queen and wanted to see her one last time.
Gin, lager and Wagamamas
It was almost 5pm and the queue had stopped, we were in Waterloo. Everyone was looking at Thony’s phone as he played the live stream from inside Westminster Hall.
“It will be a breathtaking sight to see,” James said.
A pause in the queue is perhaps one of the only points when you can go to the toilet or get something to eat, but there’s no formal system, you count on your neighbour to save your space.
As Leigh sipped on a pint of beer from a nearby stand, James returned with a chicken katsu curry from Wagamamas.
It wasn’t just our crew that was fuelling up, everyone began tucking into snacks they’d brought in their bags whilst others drank Pimms and cans of gin and tonic.
Down past Big Ben and up towards St Thomas’ Hospital we realised that it would be unlikely that we’d be waiting for more than a few hours.
Although we knew where we were headed, people passing beside the queue look bewildered. Some perhaps at the length and others were not fans of the royals.
Security tightened as queue zigzagged
Our conversations ranged from whether pineapple on pizza is acceptable, to the Ukraine war and our families.
As we approached the south side of Lambeth Bridge our legs started to ache. It had only taken us three hours to get from near London Bridge all the way to the edge of the gardens next to the Palace of Westminster.
The security tightened and the queues began to zig-zag, this was the longest part.
Although we temporarily lost Thony at the portaloos, we managed to regroup in the gardens. It was impossible to gauge how many people were behind us, but we were now shuffling.
After passing through the airport-style security checks under bright flood lights, we knew we were close.
As we stepped inside Westminster Hall the queue fell silent, it was the moment everyone came for.
We walked up a flight of stairs and as we entered the hall, everyone’s shoulders seemed to drop forwards. It was impossible to miss the coffin, grand, regal and raised on a platform.
The only noise came from the guards shuffling as they changed over.
As we filed down in two lines, people curtseyed to the coffin, bowed their heads and wept. We left no more than 10 minutes after we arrived in the hall.
“That was so worth the wait,” Leigh said as everyone nodded in agreement. “I just don’t have anything to say,” Thony added. Everyone hugged before home and our last picture was taken.
Although we’d started as strangers that afternoon, we left with a memory that only our ‘crew’ will share.
Source : BBC News