Insight

Paul Reilly: How wheels of history sped up when Queen's death announced

Paul Reilly covered the Queen's passing from across the UK, reporting live from Hillsborough, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

Within minutes of the Queen’s death being announced the first bunch of flowers was placed outside Hillsborough Castle.

A mum and her son, still in his school uniform. They’d just finished dinner when the news broke.

As I interviewed them, there was an eerie sense that the wheels of history had suddenly sped up.

I continued to watch people of all ages congregate outside the castle gates as the rain came down.

Families in waterproofs, fighting with umbrellas, having deferred bedtime for their little ones, just so they could experience this moment.

Even if they wouldn’t remember it, one dad told me, he’ll be able to tell his children in later years they had visited the Monarch’s official Northern Ireland residence on that night.

Those people I met were at the forefront of my mind during Sunday’s proclamation.

UTV provided live coverage of the ceremony from Hillsborough.

I was joined by Queen’s University Belfast’s Professor Marie Coleman. Both of us, like millions of others still retuning our brains to say King Charles, not prince.

Paul with professor Marie Coleman

That proclamation, with its mixture of pomp and solemnity, was a taster of what was to come.

I’d always told my friends the death of Queen Elizabeth would set in motion a chain of events, the like of which we had never seen.

I was working as a GMTV reporter when the Queen visited Havelock House in 2010. It was amazing to watch this iconic figure make her away around Studio One, often saying very little but offering a smile to everyone she met.

I couldn’t have predicted that almost 12 years later, I’d be reporting on her funeral for UTV.

Paul covering the Queen's visit to UTV in Havelock House.

When camera operator Alan Deans and I arrived in London we were struck by the tributes in almost every shop window and electronic billboard.  

It wasn’t long before we were speaking to people from Northern Ireland who had made their way to capital.

Many of them having joined the queue for the Lying in State at Westminster Hall. A queue very which quickly became a symbol of national mourning.

It was incredible to see people from all walks of life voluntarily standing for hours in a line that snaked for miles. No one I saw was complaining or grumbling, in fact the mood was buoyant.

To see the scale of the media presence at Canada Gate across from Buckingham Palace was breath-taking.

On the first night we came live out of London I was standing beside international broadcasters, hearing a hum of dozens of accents and languages. There was absolutely no mistaking, this was a global story.

Among the people we met were two men from my hometown of Newtownards.

Lt Col Simon Nichols and Captain John Donaldson were childhood friends who had joined the Irish Guards and now found themselves fulfilling a final duty to their Sovereign by mounting a vigil around her coffin.

Lt Col Simon Nichols and Captain John Donaldson with Paul.

Both were aware of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders and the honour that had been bestowed on them.

They spoke of the emotional scenes within Westminster Hall, moved by the dignity and respect shown to the late Queen.

We also met a group of women from the Shankill Road in Belfast.

They were proud of how their community had responded to the Queen’s death, a new mural there becoming a focal point for tributes.

When we met them on the Mall on the morning of the funeral they had lost track of how many hours they’d been awake. Aches and pain from sleeping outside were more than worth it they told me.

Loud speakers relayed the funeral service to the tens of thousands of people who had lined the famous road to Buckingham Palace.

There was a spontaneous round of applause after the national anthem was sang.

Very soon we felt the tremors of the marching bands in the funeral procession making their way towards us.

In a sea of camera phones, many bowed their heads as the Queen’s coffin, carrying her crown, orb and sceptre, passed us.

Following behind, Charles III and members of the Royal Family. Cries of ‘Long Live the King’ were heard echoing as the procession made its way to Wellington Arch.

We later met some of those from Northern Ireland who had been inside the Abbey for the funeral.

Those we spoke to were in awe of the occasion and their proximity to crowned heads, presidents and prime ministers.

Much has been said of Her late Majesty over the past two weeks.

It’s difficult to add anything new.

But a few days after her death, still trying to find a form of words to describe her near universal admiration and contribution to history, not to mention Northern Ireland’s peace process, I was stopped in my tracks by the words of my youngest nephew.

When my sister asked why he was so sad about the Queen’s death, he simply said: “She had a kind face and I’ll miss her.”


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