Canada’s delegation to the Queen’s funeral on Monday includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor-General Mary Simon and 17 others. During the service, four Canadians – Olympian Mark Tewksbury, musician Gregory Charles, actor Sandra Oh and Cross of Valour recipient Leslie Palmer – will participate in a procession of recipients of national honours.
They are part of Canada’s delegation because of their heroic acts, artistic skill and athletic achievements. Since their invitation to the funeral, they’ve come together in a rush to find appropriate outfits, rehearse in Westminster Abbey, where the Queen was coronated, and croon for the Prime Minister.
After he recovered from the shock of being invited to the Queen’s funeral, Leslie Palmer faced a dilemma: What would he wear?
Mr. Palmer spent 30 years working for the Canadian Coast Guard in Prince Rupert, B.C., and in 2006 he was awarded the Cross of Valour for rescuing two stranded fishermen during a winter storm. Last week, he got a surprise call from the Prime Minister’s Office inviting him to join the Canadian delegation to the funeral.
“I said ‘Wow, are you kidding me?’ ” Mr. Palmer, 61, recalled in an interview on Sunday in London. “I was quite overwhelmed.”
There was just one problem: He didn’t have an appropriate suit.
“Coming from a small community of Prince Rupert, and what I’ve grown up with, I don’t have too many suits in my closet, put it that way,” he said.
He managed to find a black blazer, black pants and a dark tie, along with a white shirt, which he was instructed to wear. He’ll also be sporting his Cross of Valour and he’ll be walking in the procession with cross recipients from New Zealand and Australia.
This is Mr. Palmer’s first trip to London and he felt awestruck as he walked through Westminster Abbey on Saturday for a rehearsal. “You just wonder how many years people have walked through these doorways. It’s very humbling to be able to be here to take part in this,” he said.
He saw the Queen once in Prince Rupert, back in 1973 when she came to open the local hospital. “I remember as a kid going along to see her, and to be here today and for the service, it’s a real honour,” he said.
His wife, Lorie, along with their two sons and just about everyone else in Prince Rupert will be getting up at 3 a.m. local time to watch the funeral. The two fishermen he rescued might also tune in. Mr. Palmer has kept in touch with them and one named his daughter Leslie.
“That’s a real honour and it touches the heart,” Mr. Palmer said.
Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury was in Manchester on the day the Queen died. He was attending a charity event and he never expected to be crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice to return for her funeral 11 days later.
From Manchester, he travelled back to his home in Calgary then to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for a speaking engagement last week. When he found out on Wednesday that he was invited to be part of the Canadian delegation to the funeral, he went back to Calgary to get his suit and then proceeded to Ottawa to join the flight to London.
The invitation “was a total surprise. There was a little bit of scrambling to be honest,” he said Sunday in London. “Thankfully I still had a black suit that I hadn’t tried on since 2019. It fits still, phew.” He has bought new shoes, a belt and a tie. “I just thought I’d really like to kind of be shiny and sparkly for this.”
On Monday, he’ll be part of a procession of 51 people who have been awarded national honours from their home countries. Mr. Tewksbury has received the Order of Canada and he’ll be in the procession with actor Sandra Oh and musician Gregory Charles. “We’re very early in the service,” he said of the procession. “We’ll get the show started so to speak.”
Mr. Tewksbury, 54, met the Queen several times. His first encounter was at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 and then again at several Games afterward. “She really was something,” he said. “When you actually are in her presence, even if you think you are not going to be impressed or that it’s not a big deal, it is. There was something about her and the way she carried herself.”
His fondest memory is from the 2012 Olympics in London. Mr. Tewksbury was chef de mission of the Canadian team and he recalled sitting near the royal box during the opening ceremonies. “When she arrived, when you looked up, it was like a disco ball but it was her diamonds creating the sparkle all over the place.”
Gregory Charles, a multifaceted performing artist from Montreal, is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of songs and his ability to play them on the spot. He and the other Canadians in the procession of the recipients of national honours were in Westminster Abbey for rehearsals on Saturday, surrounded by history.
The church is where Queen Elizabeth was coronated and is home to the graves of famous artists, scientists and members of British royalty. It was awe-inspiring, Mr. Charles said, describing the decor for the Queen’s funeral as epic, momentous and British.
Around the official events, the Canadian delegation has also found moments of joy and celebration, said Mr. Charles, 54, an Officer of the Order of Canada. Late Saturday night, he sat behind a piano in their hotel lobby and entertained people in the delegation, including the Prime Minister, and hotel guests. He said the proceedings remind him of Caribbean funerals, blending sombre moments of respect with ones celebrating life and sharing stories.
“Everyone sang with me for two hours,” he said, “That was the feeling, that was a lot of fun.”
He said he never had a chance to meet the late Queen but has frequently met King Charles, starting more than two decades ago on one of the then-Prince’s cross-Canada tours. Mr. Charles was the host for some of the events, including ones in Quebec City, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Victoria. He described the King as “very funny, very fun-loving, very good with people” and interested in their lives and histories.
Mr. Charles said he was struck by the outpouring of goodwill that has been shared since the Queen’s death. The unique moment in history is underscored for him by the gathering of hundreds of world leaders who, for an hour on Monday, will sit together and be “silent and think and pay homage to a life story.”
It’s a “caption in time, everything stops for an hour.”