And in the end, they put the Queen in the ground, and that was that. The Funeral was a Real History Moment, the sort that gets played back in years to come on history shows, with the AI clone of Simon Schama in the year 2081 stating solemnly, “Even for us smart-alec artificial-intelligence history bots, just simple bits of code flying around on a Silicon Valley server, even we had to stop sniggering and start paying attention, knowing with a suspicious lump in the HDMI cable that something immense had happened, the death of a matriarch; this was history happening right before our very photoreceptors.” We had to watch, of course. The Queen’s Funeral was long, solemn, and quite the spectacle. It was like the Avengers Endgame of British royalty and politics, and although the Queen’s last words probably weren’t “And I Am Elizabeth II”, she did somehow snap her fingers and make Boris Johnson disappear into dust. She worked right up to the end, and one of her final acts was to usher in a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who managed to hang on to her job until just after the Queen’s Funeral. We didn’t watch the Funeral live; we watched it on YouTube after getting home from work. I’m glad I was in America. My friends back home said the mood in Britain was getting out of hand, which doesn’t sound like Britain at all does it, and said the BBC had started to be called ‘MournHub’. In the end though, we got the show, we got the pomp and pageantry, and I will admit, the version of the National Anthem that they played in Westminster Abbey, in that place, was easily the best version you will ever hear, much better than the dreary durge they belt out at England matches, or that used to be played on BBC2 at about midnight before Close. This stirred the soul, it made my feel feel ticklish. I think it may have been the last time we’ll hear the God Save The Queen with that lyric in a while, in my lifetime anyway, it’ll be all God Save The King now. Sounds a bit off, like something Lord Whats-his-name would say on Downton Abbey.
I drew the Westminster bit in Procreate, before taking a break and then watching the Windsor part on my iPad, drawing on a brown envelope, making those red coats of the Scots Guard stand out. It was a long old drive up to Windsor Castle. The Queen was buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and now we have a King, Charles III. Honestly when I first saw that headline, I thought it read “Charles ill” and I thought, oh here we go again already.
The last event like this I’d actually watched was the Funeral of Princess Diana, back in that frankly bonkers period of time in September 1997. Anyone who was alive at the time will remember this, but for those of us in the UK the response was utterly ridiculous. I had no idea the country could react in such a way to anything. On the night Diana was killed in that car crash in Paris, along with Dodi Al Fayed, I remember that I was unironically eating in an Egyptian restaurant just around the corner form Kensington Palace which had pictures of Diana on the wall, and I even said “wouldn’t it be funny if Diana and Dodi came in right now.” They had not been off the front pages of the newspapers all week, their fling in France being like Christmas and birthdays rolled into one for all the tabloid editors, gossip columnists and paparazzi. They were ruthless; she was not the ‘People’s Princess’ or the ‘Queen of Hearts’ back then, that would not be until a few days later. I didn’t know Diana had died until early the next morning, when my Mum woke me up to tell me the news. She was shocked and upset, being a big fan of the Royals, and it was very shocking news. Throughout my young life I’d grown up watching the Diana story unfold – the wedding of Charles and Diana was one of my earliest memories, and we had a street party for that, one in which my dad won the “dad’s piggyback race”, where you had to run to the top of the street with your kid on your back. My mum did meet Diana at least once, while working on catering jobs, though she regrets that she never got to meet the Queen. The most famous person I met while working on those catering jobs (because I used to work as a waiter when I was first old enough to work) was Ronnie Corbett, and he was brilliant. Anyway, we got the first edition of the Sunday newspapers, News of the World or one of those old rags that don’t exist any more, and the first few pages were pure Historic Moment – the shock, the tears, the gushing about the Queen of Hearts is dead, the anguish, the instant canonization of Diana – and yet, because editors had to get this newspaper out in time for people to grab the papers with the biggest headlines, they had not yet updated all the articles a few pages deep into the paper, which were still full of “Diana is disgracing the nation” and showing long range pictures of her in skimpy outfits with Dodi on a yacht off the Cote d’Azur. Still, I had no time to join in the national mourning, because I was off to France myself, taking the coach to Strasbourg with my friend Terry for a few days of being silly, a little vacation before I started university. While we were away, people would ask us, “are you doing ok?” and we’d be like, “er yeah, we’re fine,” thinking, strange thing to keep asking us.
We didn’t know that back in England the place was slowly becoming Diana Crazy. I sometimes call Britain “Totally Normal Island”, but this was the country at it’s Most Totally Normal. The sea of flowers in front of Kensington Palace was only part of it. When we arrived back in London on our coach from France the country had been gripped with the Diana Fever for several days already, and we were a little taken aback. I went to Kensington Palace to have a look at the flowers; hundreds of people were standing around, many bawling their eyes out. My mum signed the remembrance book down there; I didn’t know what to write so I just put some Beatles lyrics in there, I can’t even remember what. It probably wasn’t ‘I Am The Walrus’. Then the Funeral took place. The whole country closed down, shops, schools (I mean it was a Saturday so they were closed anyway), and we all sat around the telly while about a million people lined the streets of central London, watching on big screens down at Hyde Park. This was Funeral with Entertainment. This was the 90s, we had an excited new young cool PM Tony Blair steering the ship Cool Britannia, and Diana was friend of the famous – her good pal Elton John performed a rewrite of one of his classics, singing “Goodbye England’s Rose”, his eyebrows bobbing up and down as that guaranteed number one echoed through the hallowed stones of Westminster Abbey. And the Diana was put into the ground up at the family home at Althorp (which we learned was pronounced ‘Awl-trup’), and then over the next few weeks the country blinked and looked around as if coming out of some trance and went, what the bloody hell was that about? I started university a couple of weeks later and even then, people were not sure what had just happened, and how we were supposed to think about it other than some collective temporary madness. It’s something we can all look back on though, all remembered slightly differently, all with different degrees of cynicism or sadness, but it was a Historical Moment and gives expatriate Brits like me us a funny story to tell Americans.