Reporter Notebook Day 5: Preparations for one of the biggest planned events in modern times, a change in mood

People have been lining up on the streets for hours in preparation for the late Queen's funeral on Monday.
Published: Sep. 18, 2022 at 9:57 AM EDT
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LONDON, UK (WBTV) -Today was the day that I noticed the change. It wasn’t overly obvious, but more subtle. When I first arrived in London on Wednesday morning, the mood was calm. People were mostly over the initial shock they felt at the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and were dealing with whatever emotions that loss created for them.

On Thursday, and through Saturday, the mood was more upbeat. It wasn’t celebratory, but it was more positive with people reflecting on happy memories of the Queen. Then there was the fun of the queue. People standing in line for 14-15 hours and making friends and sharing food. There was also the David Beckham visit that lifted spirits. The high point may have been the visit of King Charles III and Prince William. They spent real time with folks in the line, thanking them, and accepting the well wishes of so many mourners.

To me it seemed that the mood changed a bit on Sunday. The seriousness of what was about to happen seemed to be setting in. Eamonn Kelly is a presenter, or what we call a deejay, on a London radio station. He’s also a personal friend. On Sunday morning I spoke with him about the feeling in London that he had noticed.

“Initial shock I suppose. People just felt that the Queen would be here forever. We know that’s an impossible thing, but she was the monarch for 70 years and the vast majority of people in the UK know nothing else but the Queen who has here for that long,” Kelly said. “Tens of thousands of people if not hundreds of thousands now have paid their respects and wanted to see the Queen lying in state, and I think that says everything.”

After talking with Eamonn, I walked down Whitehall. You may not it’s one of the most important streets in all of the United Kingdom. #10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence is just off Whitehall. There are many other important government buildings there.

On Sunday I encountered hundreds of people sitting in chairs along the sidewalk. Many of them had traveled for many miles to be here, and they were prepared to stay more than 24 hours in order to have a front row seat when the Queen’s coffin passes by on a gun carriage.

“We’ve come down here early this morning to get good position, on up the front, to be ready for the Queen’s funeral tomorrow,” Graham Ablett, camped out with wife Leslie, said. “Yeah, we’ve got everything, chairs, sleeping bags, rain cover to put over us so we’ll be out here…elements hoping we’ve got a good position for tomorrow. Being out all night is nothing really to what she’s done for us really.”

And to me, that said it all. So many Brits feel that they owe it to Queen Elizabeth to pay their respects in person, and they’re willing to put up with hardships and inconveniences to do just that.

Our broadcast home for CBS News is located inside the Methodist Central Hall, just across the intersection from Westminster Abbey. It is a functioning Methodist church. Today they held their services, just like always. All of us in the media were upstairs banging away on our laptops or doing live shots from of the specially built platform. As I was sitting at my table, I heard a familiar song begin. I jumped up and ran over to the door of the balcony that overlooks the sanctuary. For the first time in 70 years, the congregation was standing to sing “God Save The King.” It is the National Anthem of the United Kingdom, and for the last 70 years it was known as “God Save The Queen.” Hearing the updated version really sealed it.

God save our gracious King!

Long live our noble King!

God save the King!

Send him victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us,

God save the King.

These are the same lyrics sung since at least 1745. The words ask for God’s blessing over the monarch.

Often as Americans we don’t necessarily understand the role of monarch, and especially the relationship Queen Elizabeth had with her people. This week I’ve seen it first hand and learned that for many, it’s sincere and heartfelt.

“I think a lot of people have been affected more than they thought by this,” Eamonn Kelly said.

I think tomorrow will see a widespread outpouring of emotion as a family says farewell and a nation says its final goodbye to one of the most beloved individuals in its history.