I listened to the funeral on the radio in my garden. As I sat I pictured the route, knowing every corner, every old building from my decades of working, drinking, loitering, even sleeping rough within its crevices and crevasses. I much preferred the idea of sitting and imagining the cortege, the gun carriage, the rope-pulling sailors and the crowds.
The Queen was royally served by Radio 4 and the cream of the BBC’s presenters; though the sonorous, soft Scottish voice of James Naughtie was the only one I recognised, with an Irish voice near Clarence House, a Northern Irish voice near Buckingham Palace and plain English middle class seemingly placed along the way. I sat enthralled. I could do nothing for the duration, until finally the hearse took the coffin off from Hyde Park Corner.
The glare of the filmed or videoed event does not work for me because a good piece of descriptive radio awakens more memories. And memories, not necessarily of the Queen but of the time on Earth that I shared with her, are what I wanted to conjure up as I sat, solitary, and listened.
If there was anything disturbing for me in the whole panoply of the death and funeral, it was that last picture of Liz Truss shaking Her Majesty’s hand. The Queen dressed in her usual homely array, Liz Truss a large torpedo of a woman seemingly towering over the small monarch, who in her need to look dignified even held a black handbag on her arm. How unwell she must have been – the look on her face showed it – as she struggled to be dutiful. It was one of the most human looks I have ever seen captured in a royal picture. A woman in the closing hours of life, with her large and powerful last prime minister before her, amazon-like. It was informative but distressing at the same time.
- ‘Thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine’: The Queen’s charitable legacy
- Making friends and sharing sandwiches: What it’s really like in The Queue to see the Queen
- ‘She made us feel like royalty’: Volunteers and charity workers share their stories of meeting the Queen
I remember being interested in the state funeral of Winston Churchill, back on my 19th birthday. But I did not sit by the radio, or the wireless as we might have called it then. I was living in a small room in Earl’s Court and was woken very early by a friend of mine who, among other things, insisted he was Churchill’s first cousin. This seemed unlikely given the petty criminal he was, or had become.
But he insisted we went to the funeral, and I got out of bed reluctantly and traipsed on the Underground to St James’s Park. Only to find that though my friend had solemnly queued up in Westminster Palace to see Sir Winston’s casket, the funeral was in fact at St Paul’s, a good few miles east. And not, as he had imagined, at Westminster Abbey. We missed the funeral but we saw the vast crowds that seemed to take over the whole of Central London.