Robert Peston: 'My half hour observing the Lying in State'

The Queen Lying in State at Westminster Hall as the public pays their respects.

Some bowed. Some curtsied. Others crossed themselves.

Every six seconds, another four people - two deep on each side - paused by the late Queen Elizabeth’s coffin and paid their last respects.

In the half hour I was privileged to observe from a podium at one end of the vast medieval hall, I witnessed 1200 file past the raised sarcophagus, draped in her regal standard, guarded by yeoman and soldiers in their peacock-like ceremonial dress.

These were hardy folk who had waited in line for 12 hours. They weren’t quite a typical representation of the country: they were perhaps a bit older than average - more of them wore uniforms and medals than you’d typically see on a high street - there were fewer ethnic minorities.

Most were sombre, not a few were weeping.

When I was there, at tea time, a distressed David Beckham - who had queued since the very early morning like everyone else - walked past, followed a minute later by a downcast looking Archbishop of Canterbury.

Watch David Beckham visit the Queen's Lying in State

The celebrities and notables were, though, a tiny minority - statistically insignificant, if difficult to ignore.

The immaculate stillness of the soldiers for a full twenty minutes was something to behold, as were their meticulous measured footsteps when it was their turn to rest.

It was a privilege to be allowed to witness this vignette of what it is to be British: pageantry, dignity, tolerance of a long wait, mutual respect.

When I left, the yeomen in their scarlet finery had their feet up on the benches of New Palace Yard.

In a way, that was the most touching image of all, both so ordinary and extraordinary.

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