After the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, there were countless tributes and parades. There were gun salutes in castles, proclamation ceremonies, silences and songs. There were lavish, formal ceremonies, not held in 70 years, new and novel to virtually everyone. They assembled amusingly disjointed bunches of people from across political divides, including all living former UK prime ministers.
There was a public reaction: spanning from anti-monarchy antipathy, to quiet ambivalence, to a little sad, to wildly distraught. Crowds of people and flowers and messages amassed in respect of her passing across the United Kingdom: the gates of Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, the front lawn of Cardiff City Hall, and other city halls. Her face became even more ubiquitous for a time, smiling out at us from shop windows on the high street, digital displays and advertising hoardings. Alongside flatteringly lit portraits of the sparkly-eyed old lady were simple short messages, longer tributes, and sometimes nothing at all.
Central to proceedings was the intricate and military operation of moving her coffin. First, from Balmoral in Scotland, where she died. Then to Edinburgh, on to a local RAF airport, then on to London and her final visit to Buckingham Palace. Next, the procession to Westminster Hall for the coffin’s lying-in-state between Wednesday September 14 and Monday September 19. Thousands of people queued in a line up to three or four miles long for up to twenty four hours, all for a short moment in front of the coffin to pay their respects. Then came the funeral at Westminster Abbey, another cortege out to the west of the City, before the coffin was expertly loaded into a final vehicle for the journey back to Windsor Castle and a committal service, before she was lowered and entombed with her late husband.
King Charles III, the successor of Queen Elizabeth II as monarch, suddenly became a busier man with neverending documents to sign across the United Kingdom. His grief-stricken expression at times gave way to frustration at leaky ink pens, notably in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Cardiff was the final city he visited on his tour, on September 16th. He attended a service at Llandaff Cathedral outside the city centre, before visiting politicians at the Senedd parliament in Cardiff Bay. Finally, he visited Cardiff Castle for another reception, and spoke with people inside the grounds.
[Read the Composed piece about the visit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in January 2018]
That day, September 16th, I was photographing a conference at City Hall, a short walk from the Castle. During the lunch break I had taken a short stroll through excitedly expectant crowds, including schoolchildren at fever pitch, and a small throng of anti-monarchy protesters just outside the Castle gate. NotMyKing became a popular hashtag for that movement.
In the afternoon there was an hour break in the conference talks, and I had some awareness that it might be usefully timed for me to catch the new King and Queen Consort leaving the castle. I grabbed a longer lens and briskly paced over the road. Walking down the appropriately named Kingsway, past the Hilton Hotel, I saw the steel barriers either side of the road, the police officers inside the perimeter, and a thin spread of people waiting. Crowds thickened further down, closer to the main castle entrance.
A droning helicopter hovering over North Road suggested that this would be the route they took out of town. This hunch was given further weight by the nearby presence of serious looking men with walky talkies parked inside dark Land Rovers. They would be coming this way, but when? I couldn’t be too long because the next conference talk started in about twenty minutes. A security man started speaking into his walky talky. (There’s probably a more formal name for walky talky. Radio something? I can’t bring it to mind. So many questions when writing it too: one word or two? Talky or talkie?)
“What’s happening?” I was asked by strangers a couple of times, perhaps because I held a serious looking camera, perhaps because there was something intrinsically binding and unifying about this event, about all these people being here to catch a glimpse of this new King. It freed you to speak to your neighbour in a way that not much else did. A phenomenon shared by many who waited in the queue for the lying-in-state.
Here they came. It was happening. Crowds closer to the castle whooped and cheered, phones were held aloft, the serious looking Land Rover men and their walky talkys looked like it was game time. Here came the distinctive looking car with the crest. The driver with low browed hat and fixed expression of concentration, an understandably stressed looking, bearded man beside him in the passenger seat. Behind them, the new King and Queen Consort.
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