“It’s been like this all morning,” grumbles a Flemish woman with a bright yellow helmet. Together with about twenty others she tries to participate in a tour on a blue bicycle from London Bicycles. But there is little to cycle between Buckingham Palace, Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey. The area is hermetically sealed to cars. Cyclists and pedestrians are bound by tight routes with many fences and few crossings.
London prepares for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, tomorrow at 12:00 Dutch time at Westminster Abbey. Hundreds of heads of state, government leaders and other prominent figures are coming. In addition, up to a million people may come to the city to experience as much as possible of the funeral and the subsequent driving tour on the streets, in parks or in the pub.
According to the London police, this represents the largest security operation ever for the city.
At least 10,000 officers from across the United Kingdom are involved, supported by military personnel. The center where the ceremonies take place is full of roadblocks. In order to guarantee safety as much as possible, the airspace will also be closed for the most part during the funeral.
According to security expert Simon Morgan, who was responsible for the security of the royal family within the London police until a few years ago, the city is ready for this mega-operation: “The scripts for this day have been set up for years and every major royal event in the city is It has been used as a kind of training in recent decades, such as Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, or William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. All the knowledge gained from those moments comes in handy now.”
From attack to pickpockets
Morgan points out that Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is such a complicated security issue mainly because different kinds of threat come together: “Of course everyone thinks of the possibility of a terrorist attack, with so many public figures together. But if at the same time there are a million people on the road being on the street also means, for example, that there are more pickpockets active. All those aspects deserve the same attention, because everyone who is in London on Monday deserves police protection.”
G. Keith Still, visiting professor of masses and behavior at the University of Suffolk, reckons London can handle so many people: “London has experience with big events, think of the 2012 Olympics. constantly monitor where it threatens to get too crowded. They see in time which metro stations or public places they have to close in that case, so that they can redirect people to another place. If you expect such large crowds, you have to come up with a plan A, also have a plan B and C. The city has it.”
Two days in the cold
According to Still, it also matters what type of people come to the city: “Visitors to a funeral show different behavior than people who come for a football match, for example. The biggest risk for the people who come to London on Monday is that they can overestimate themselves. That they think: I can stand along the route for hours, that is not too much for me, while that could of course be the case for some. “
To get ahead of Monday’s masses, Nathalie (49), Rachel (51) and Kim (59) have already set up a camping chair in Parliament Square at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. They are thus assured of a good spot along the route that the coffin containing Queen Elizabeth’s remains will travel from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey.
They don’t care that they have to last more than two days in the open air. “We have chairs, we have sleeping bags and we make new friends: we are doing well,” Rachel says. “Being in the cold for more than two days and without sleep is nothing compared to our queen’s more than seventy years of loyal service.”