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Ealing resident Alastair Mitton reflects on his journey to see The Queen lying in state at Westminster Hall and what it meant to him to be there

Alastair Mitton, parliamentary spokesman, for Ealing Central and Acton Liberal Democrats, and his wife joined with the many hundreds of thousands of people across the country to pay their respects and go to Westminster Hall to see The Queen lying in state.

He tells, EALING.NEWS what it was like and what it meant to him to be there on Friday (16 November 2022).

I want to reflect on a truly uplifting day on Friday. I have been asked several times about the “moment” when I was no longer part of the queue that had been my life for 15 hours but instead alone (or so it felt) in front of Her Majesty’s casket with only my thoughts for company.

Her Majesty was an inspiration to all of us who aspire to public service. Her famous dedication to serve for her whole life, be it long or short, was given in a broadcast when she was 21, four years before she became Queen. None of us can imagine a job from which we cannot quit and find another. None of us can imagine a job from which there is no respite for 363 days a year and which can demand up to 14 hours a day. None of us can understand what it is like to not be able to share our opinion on anything even slightly controversial. Yet this was the reality of her entire life. Yes of course she had a luxurious lifestyle but a gilded cage is a cage nevertheless and this was one placed in unrelenting public gaze from which there could be no release. Yet it seems that this remarkable woman had somehow found the Zen of being Monach, what a book that would have made.

Standing in front of the casket I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude not just for her long years of service to our country, the Commonwealth and the world as a whole but gratitude at a very personal level that she had lit the way, a beacon of good humour in a cynical world. It is possible to retain your humanity, your sense of decency and fun and still serve your fellow human beings.

My eyes drank in every little detail, the crown sparkled as if alive and the orb and sceptre, symbols of spiritual and temporal authority seemed to pulse with power. The Royal Standard, which will now be carried by her grieving son, draped over the coffin reminded me that the were two families who were mourning, her immediate one and the wider national family.

I bowed my head, not for forms sake, prior to the moment I had honestly no idea what I was going to do but I bowed as the only visible way I had of saying Thank You. It was a thank you a teacher whose value you only realise after you or they have left school.

Then all at once I snapped back to reality, Westminster Hall once again filled with people, the guardsmen and Beefeaters standing vigil came back into focus and I moved forward to allow someone else (my wife, Paulette Budd-Mitton) to share their private moment with The Queen. As I walked away a young lady standing off to one side, in formal parliamentary attire, caught my eye and gave me a small gentle smile, as if she had borne witness to my feelings in the “moment”. It felt wonderful to share that second moment and very appropriate.

In truth though the “moment” wasn’t the the moment at all. The moment had been the whole day. Being in the longest queue in human history is a strange experience. You are thrust into close contact with a number of strangers (they vary as coffee and comfort breaks demand) all with a common purpose but unlike a football match or rock concert there is no external focus only the line. People chatted about all manner of things, one gentleman I saw had his nose in a book or rather two books as he completed the first one part way through or were silent, all united in a common purpose of showing respect. That respect extended to everyone in the queue, no one cared about trivial things like their particular place in the queue. We started near a lady pushing her bike (Lord knows where she was going to park it) but lost contact with her as she somehow moved ahead with no murmurs let alone an objection.

Alastair Mitton with his wife
Alastair Mitton with his wife Paulette Budd-Mitton

At the end of the queue we were sent through airport style security far more stringent than any at Heathrow or Gatwick. My kilt and Highland attire set all the detectors off as I had expected and a young policeman from Scotland had the dubious task of giving me a though search. He enquired if I was carrying a Sgian Dubh (the small dagger worn in your sock) and was very relieved to learn that I had left it at home. After consultation with his sargent I was permitted to keep my kilt pin which came as an immense relief as earlier I had to surrender the best pair of tweezers I have ever owned. My wife managed to retain her bag of humbugs by the simple expedient of offering them to the police, which several of them eagerly accepted, thereby making them complicit in the crime.

Earlier in the day, while queuing in Southwark Park, I had twice been interviewed by Sky News and once by an Italian news agency. When asked if I was ready for what was going to be a long day I had voiced an opinion that The Queen had given us 70 years so 9 hours seemed the least I could do. I am by nature an optimistic person but that turned out to be a wild underestimate.

I walked 10 miles that day and it seems that by Monday when it closes upwards of a million people will have participated. If they all average around the same that’s to the Moon and back nearly 18 times. Staggering thought.

Being at such a massive public event and yet it’s culmination being such a private and individual moment was incredible. Being a very small part of history was a true privilege.

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