Thursday, September 29, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin set to return to London, where large crowds await

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LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II completed the last leg of her final journey home to Buckingham Palace.

The late British monarch’s coffin was flown from Edinburgh, Scotland, back to London on Tuesday and was then driven in a state hearse to her official home — six days before her state funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Thousands of people were assembled at the palace Tuesday evening ahead of the state hearse’s arrival. Rain was falling as the crowd looked on in near silence, with some mourners seen tracking the car’s movements on their phones.

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Buckingham Palace
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Buckingham Palace.Justin Tallis / AFP – Getty Images

People craned their necks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the vehicle, saying they were there to bear witness to what they believe was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, regardless of how they feel about the queen and the monarchy.

The crowd erupted into cheers and applause when the hearse pulled into the palace, marking the last time the queen would arrive at her longtime home.

Image: Pallbearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sept. 13, 2022 to a hearse to be transported to Edinburgh airport.
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Tuesday to a hearse to be transported to Edinburgh Airport.Odd Andersen / AFP – Getty Images

Ana Freitas, 39, was among those outside the palace. She moved to London from Portugal 15 years ago and teared up when talking about the queen.

“She was a perfect woman. She was a simple, perfect woman,” Freitas said.

Thousands of people have been gathered at Buckingham Palace in recent days to pay their respects to the queen, placing bright flower bouquets and handwritten notes outside the gates.

The arrival of the queen’s coffin was a closely watched moment in the series of memorial events that have followed the queen’s death Thursday, at age 96.

Elizabeth’s coffin was flown to the RAF Northolt near London on a Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster airplane, United Kingdom Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston told Sky News.

The aircraft has been used to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan and to transport humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, Wigston told the broadcaster.

Tens of thousands of people have already been paying tribute in London as well as in Scotland, where the queen died last week and which has played a central role in her posthumous procession.

Elizabeth was deeply fond of Scotland, especially the Highlands and her family’s Balmoral Castle. Crowds in nearby towns and villages lined the streets Sunday as her hearse meandered its way on a circuitous route to Edinburgh.

In the Scottish capital, the hearse was greeted by packed crowds along the Royal Mile, a steep cobbled street leading to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where her body was taken and visited by King Charles III and other major royals.

Charles and his siblings — Anne, Andrew and Edward — then followed the coffin back up the thoroughfare to St. Giles’ Cathedral in a procession held in almost complete silence, punctuated by cannon fire from Edinburgh Castle at one-minute intervals.

The royals then stood guard by her coffin in a vigil at the cathedral.

Image: King Charles III and other members of the royal family hold a vigil at the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland on Sept. 12, 2022.
King Charles III and other members of the royal family hold a vigil at the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Monday.Jane Barlow / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

Some people waited for more than six hours to see the coffin as it lay in rest at St. Giles’, with the line stretching for more than a mile through the city’s picturesque sandstone Old Town.

“I have been sad about it, but actually seeing her in there just makes it so … real,” said Charlotte Morrison, 20, who is from Aberdeen but studies at college in Edinburgh.

Daniel Arkin reported from London; Alexander Smith reported from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Daniel Arkin is a national reporter at NBC News. He specializes in popular culture and the entertainment industry, particularly film and television.

Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.

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