What is it like to be at the Queen's Lying in State?

People queue to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it lies on the catafalque in Westminster Hall. Credit: PA

It hits you, the moment you step inside.

Absolute stillness. Absolute silence.

It contrasts with the vastness of Westminster Hall and the number of people in it.

Even the footsteps on the giant stone slabs have been muffled by the carpeted route along which the mourners walk.

And so, without phones and without cameras, there is only one focus in the great space: the tall purple catafalque and the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II it supports above.

Along either side, there is a constant flow of people – much like the waters of the River Thames just outside.

Young and old, local and international, civilian and military, they file down the steps at the south end of the hall in two long, never-ending lines.

When they reach the late Queen, they pause.

Some lower their heads, others clasp their hands, many just stop and think.

But always silent.

You can sense many mourners want to stay longer.

But each of them knows there are thousands in the line behind them.

So they have their moment, they pay their respects and they step away.

Behind them, there is someone else waiting to do the same.

As they walk away, many are wiping away tears.

Some have tissues. Others just the backs of their hands. Often, they are surprised by their own emotional response.

There are military veterans saluting their former Commander-in-Chief.

There are people in black clothes of mourning.

Others in shorts or gym gear.

Some courtesy, some give a deep bow.

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A few are old enough to remember a time before the Queen.

But for the vast majority, she’s the only British Sovereign they’ve ever known.

Whether they’ve come alone or in a group, no one speaks.

Not because they’ve been told to be quiet, but because they feel it’s the right thing to do.

It’s perfectly still, perfectly calm.

Even the babies in their mothers’ arms were silent.

One day they will be told how they saw Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Hall.

But there are no pictures to prove it.

The four giant candles in each corner of the coffin flicker and the guardsmen keep watch. Heads bowed.

The coffin is never alone. A continuous vigil is maintained in twenty minute rotations.

And then, two taps of a stick at the top of a flight of steps breaks the silence.

It signals a change of the watch.

Watch ITV News continuous live coverage of the Queen Lying in State at Westminster Hall

And at the North Door, through which the Queen’s coffin had been carried on Wednesday afternoon, ten pairs of footsteps make their way to the centre of the hall.

As they swap places, the flow of mourners is gently held back.

Perhaps, at other times or in other places, there would be a frustration at being kept in place after having queued for so long.

But for those in Westminster Hall when the vigil rotation takes place, it means they get to take in this scene for a few minutes longer.

They witness a little more of this moment of history.

Night had fallen when I entered. Ushered in from a corridor along which I once walked many times as a reporter in the Houses of Parliament.

But this was a moment I would never forget.

And nor will anyone who enters this hall for this history-making Lying in State.

In future years, they won’t remember the long wait on the banks of the Thames.

They will just remember the moment when they saw this coffin, of this Monarch, in this place.

Almost without exception, when the mourners reach the North Door to return to the world outside, they turn back and look again at the coffin they’ve just passed.

A second chance to reflect on what they’ve just seen: in the middle of the Palace of Westminster, a Monarch as visible in death as she was in life.