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People queue past Tower Bridge as they wait to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth as she lies in state in Westminster Hall on Sept. 17, 2022, in London.Carl Court/Getty Images

It snakes for more than eight kilometres at times and has become such a social phenomenon that it has eclipsed many of the official mourning ceremonies for Queen Elizabeth.

The line for the Queen’s lying in state at Westminster Hall – dubbed “the queue” – has taken on a life of its own. It has its own weather report, YouTube channel, Twitter feed, Instagram page and live television coverage.

The queue’s a remarkable pilgrimage that has captivated global attention – a seemingly never-ending stream of people walking next to the River Thames, day and night.

In true British style, the authorities have done their best to keep the line orderly. There are 500 portable lavatories along the route, an equal number of water stations and around 1,000 wardens who keep everyone moving with smiles and words of encouragement.

No one knows how many people have made the trek so far, but officials have estimated that at least 700,000 people will get through Westminster Hall by the time the lying-in-state ends Monday morning, just before the Queen’s funeral.

The line has taken on a festive-like atmosphere. Many people swap stories, share snacks and often hug each other at the end before exchanging phone numbers. Some read books as they walk while others provide constant cellphone updates to family members.

For many mourners, the long march to Westminster Hall has become just as meaningful as viewing the Queen’s casket.

“Part of the whole experience of this is the line,” said Richard Newman, 27, as he walked along the sidewalk on Saturday carrying a large British flag. “I don’t think the walking past the coffin bit is the bit that we’ll remember in the future. I think it’s the line. I think it’s the friends you make in the line. I think it’s the whole experience.”

Jean Kalns, 52, drove to London from Manchester on Saturday morning to join the queue. Even though she was facing a 16-hour wait, she was already enjoying herself.

“Everyone is here for the same reason,” she said. “Everyone has got a smile on their face. Everyone seems happy, even though it’s a sad occasion.”

Since the lying-in-state began on Wednesday, the line has become so popular that officials have had to stop people from joining it at times because of overcrowding. On Saturday, mourners were warned that it would take up to 24 hours to make it to Westminster Hall. That was later reduced to 14 hours.

The queue has become a place to be seen by politicians and celebrities. Former soccer great David Beckham spent 12 hours in line on Friday chatting with strangers, and actor Tilda Swindon was spotted walking along as well. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took time from his schedule to fly to London and join the queue for 14 hours on Friday.

On Saturday, King Charles and his son, the Prince of Wales, made a surprise visit to part of the line and thanked well-wishers.

Some people living along the route have offered mourners the use of their toilets and others have set up tables with coffee and snacks.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, helped one hungry group order a pizza, saying they could use nearby Lambeth Palace as a delivery address. The palace is the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ceremonial head of the Anglican Church, who didn’t seem to mind and also visited the line.

After posing for a few selfies, Rev. Cottrell quipped that the people in line were honouring the country’s two greatest traditions: the Queen and the queue.

Dr. Rob Johns, a professor of politics at the University of Essex, and a group of researchers have launched a study of those in line to find out why they came.

“It feels that people are going for the event and the event is the queue as much as seeing the coffin,” Dr. Johns said in an interview Saturday.

His preliminary findings, based on 300 interviews, indicated that most people in line wanted to say thank you to the Queen or to be part of a “historic moment.” A significant number also said they wanted to “feel part of a larger group” or “meet like-minded people.”

Dr. Johns said he found it surprising that many of those in line were not nostalgic for Britain’s colonial past or necessarily conservative in their outlook. If anything, he said, the survey showed that the mourners held liberal views on many issues and they were representative of British society.

Women made up 59 per cent of those surveyed, and the largest age group was 55 to 64. Dr. Johns added that the line was not dominated by people from London and it included representation from across Britain. The queue is “not a microcosm, but it’s not so far off.”

Not everything has gone smoothly. One man has been arrested for sexually assaulting two women in line and the ambulance service has had to help more than 700 people who have fainted or collapsed.

A furor has also erupted over special VIP access to the hall.

World leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as British Members of Parliament have been allowed to bypass the queue in order to pay their respects to the Queen. Members of the House of Lords can also get around the public line.

But most of the House of Commons staff, including those who work for MPs, are not eligible for the special treatment which has led to charges of elitism.

“It’s symbolic that hard-working security guards, cleaners and catering staff in Parliament are treated as second-class citizens,” said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union that represents the workers. “As we usher in a new era, it’s time for them to be treated as equals.”

Back in the line, Karen and Simon Connor spent 13 hours waiting to get into the hall, and they finally made it in at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Ms. Connor said queuing up was as much a part of the experience as visiting the lying-in-state.

“People really came together and supported each other,” she said adding that she struggled at times with standing for so long. “I personally had a moment when I thought I couldn’t go on, and a lovely man called Kevin, who was in our little group, said ‘I’m not letting you go.’ He took my bag off me and carried it and that really lifted my spirits.”

She said the camaraderie gave her the strength to finish the journey.

“Then I was able to pay my own respects to our Queen for everything she had done and say my own personal thank you – a moment I will never forget.”

  • King Charles III meets members of the public in the queue along the South Bank, near to Lambeth Bridge in London, as they wait to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state ahead of her funeral on Monday, on September 17, 2022.Aaron Chown/Getty Images

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