First mourner in queue says paying respects to Queen helped her cope with losing husband

Vanessa Nanthakumaran, from Harrow, north-west London, was first in line to pay tribute. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The first mourner to pay her respects to the Queen at Westminster Hall says the experience has helped her cope with the death of her husband.

Vanessa Nanthakumaran, from Harrow, north west London, queued for more than 50 hours on Albert Embankment to see the Queen Lying in State.

Ms Nanthakumaran, 56, was in position on Lambeth Bridge by noon on Monday - two days before Westminster Hall opened to the public.

She had lost her husband Nallathamby Nanthakumaran in February, and was in the middle of preparing food for loved ones for a seven-month memorial when the news of the Queen’s death broke last Thursday.

After she had paid her respects to Her Majesty on Thursday, Ms Nanthakumaran said: “I lost my husband in February and (seeing the Queen’s coffin) helped me overcome the bereavement.

“It is helping me in the process of my husband’s death – it was just sharing this that is helping me as well.”

Ms Nanthakumaran said queuing for two days and being interviewed by the media was a “different experience”.

She said she was “happy” to be the first to see the Queen and be “involved in a bit of history”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayne (left) joins members of the public filing past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: PA

“I’m so privileged that this opportunity was given to the public,” she said.

“I will be remembering this for my life. I still can’t believe it – it’s unreal that I have done it.”

She spent the two days with Anne Daley, 65, from Cardiff, and Grace Gothard, from south London – the second and third people to join the queue – and they took turns to have naps in a shared sleeping bag.

Vanessa Nathakumaran with Anne Daley Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

“Everyone was friendly,” Ms Nanthakumaran said, adding that volunteers, police and stewards brought them food, coffee and even a gazebo to shelter under.

Ms Nanthakumaran said Monday night was “OK” and “warm” but Tuesday night “was the challenging one as it was raining hard”.

“Even though it was rain or shine, it was worth the wait that we made it for our special Queen. It is once in a lifetime – we aren’t going to see her again,” she said.

“I was determined to do this from the time I heard that the Queen had passed away.”

On walking into Westminster Hall, she said she was “really nervous” and felt the weight of being the first mourner.

Watch ITV News' continuous coverage of the Queen Lying in State

“I was controlling my emotions when I was walking in there,” she said. “I didn’t want to emotionally walk in there, I wanted to do it properly.”

The atmosphere was “peaceful”, she said, adding: “I felt like I was the only person there. It was a sad experience and very emotional.”

Ms Nanthakumaran said she curtsied, said prayers in her head and thanked the Queen for “her great service”.

“It was only when I went past, it then hit me that she has really gone, that it’s real and it’s no more, and we are never going to see the Queen again,” she said.

Having arrived near Lambeth Bridge at 12pm on Monday, she told ITV News that the long wait would be worth it because "of the Queen's dutiful service".

"She did a good service to Britain and the Commonwealth... and it is our duty to say thank you for her service," she said.

Earlier this week, Vanessa Nathakumaran told ITV News her "duty" to ensure she was the first in line for the Lying in State

The administrative assistant grew up in Sri Lanka before moving to the UK to study in the 1980s.

She said her great-uncle, Sir Vaithilingam Duraiswamy, was knighted by the Queen's father, King George VI, for services to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon.)

"From that time on, I wanted to learn about British history and got more interested in it," she explained.

Her daughter, Praveena Nanthakumaran, met the Queen as an air cadet, she added.

The remarkable life of the Queen remembered in our latest episode of What You Need To Know