The first members of the congregation for the Queen’s state funeral have arrived at Westminster Abbey.
The grand oak doors of the UK’s most important church – where Her Majesty married Prince Philip and had her congregation – opened at 8am, three hours before the service starts.
2,000 royals, world leaders, VIPs and hundreds of members of the public will be in the Abbey as billions around the world will watch Her Majesty’s state funeral.
And outside hardy royal fans defied no-camping rules, as people of all ages set up tents, deck chairs and even a makeshift minibar to grab premium seats for the spectacle that will see 2million flood into the capital.
And amid concerns that London will be ‘full’ today – and a lack of hotel rooms – scores of people began bedding in to line The Mall in central London over the weekend, despite rules – seemingly loosely enforced – preventing people from setting up camp.
This morning, before dawn, stewards told campers to take down their tents. Huge crowds have also formed in Windsor, where the Queen will be buried this evening.
Several who slept in central London overnight said friends and family told them they were ‘mad’ to carry out the overnight vigil, but insisted they would not miss the occasion.
British minister Nadhim Zahawi was among one of the first guests to arrive at the Abbey
2,000 people will attend Her Majesty’s state funeral
A group, wrapped in Union Flags, camped out on chairs overnight to be in London for the funeral
Crowds camping out at night in Whitehall and Parliament Square to await the funeral
Tents on Whitehall this morning in the shadow of the Women of World War II memorial
Mourners wrapped in blankets wait with others at Horse Guards ahead of the State Funeral Of Queen Elizabeth II. Many have camped
People slept on the floor and on chairs wrapped in blankets ahead of the first state funeral for almost 60 years
Members of the public camped out over night on The Mall near Buckingham Palace, ahead of a State Funeral
The line of people sleeping in London was several deep and stretched towards Green Park and St James’ Park
A Pearly King and Queen line the Procession Route in London
Among them were school friends Christine Manning, 75, and Dianne Donohue, 73, from Leek in Staffordshire, who slept in a pop-up tent.
Mrs Donohoe, a retired housewife and grandmother-of-three, said: ‘Yes, the advice was not to camp but we disobeyed. We’ve had a good catch-up, we’ve enjoyed it.
‘We were sleeping in the tent and at 4.30am I woke up and asked Chris if she was awake, she was, so we had a whisky and lemonade and a pork pie. A couple more hours’ sleep, then onto the prosecco.
‘We had to take our tent down at 7am because the police told us to, but we couldn’t do it, so we had to get some lad to help us.
‘We’re out of pork pies sadly but we’ve got sausage rolls, and we’ve got some gin now the whisky’s run out – we’re chipper.’
Miss Manning, a retired waitress, added: ‘My kids said we were mad.
‘Well, “mental” is the word they used. They said we were idiots for doing this.
‘I said it had to be done.’
Mourners camped out close to Parliament Square this morning
The street is cleaned in advance of the State Funeral Procession of Queen Elizabeth II amid already huge crowds
The Mall was a frenzy of activity yesterday, as people arrived to lay flowers nearby, get a glimpse of Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards Parade, and bag their vantage points for the funeral procession as it makes its way from Westminster to Windsor.
Tim Thompson, 35, from New Brunswick in Canada, and Charlie Shirley, 36, from north London, also slept in a tent on the Mall.
The pair became friends after being sat next to each other for William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, and resumed their same spot together on Saturday.
Miss Shirley said: ‘We do all the royal events together, it’s like we’re a family.
‘I saw Tim at the Queen’s Jubilee and we said that the next time we see each other would probably be at the Queen’s funeral – we didn’t expect it to be three months later.’
Mr Thompson said: ‘I keep four days’ holiday a year for royal events, so I had to be here.’
American businesswoman Nicole Alford, 40, paid around £1,300 for a last-minute flight to London on Thursday, and said she would camp out until after the funeral.
She said: ‘You don’t come all this way and then watch it on the TV. I want a front-seat of history.
‘My mom said: “I can’t believe you’re doing that.”
‘I said: “I can’t believe you didn’t think I would do that.”
‘Everybody thinks I’m crazy, but I managed five-and-a-half hours’ uninterrupted sleep on my first night camping out here, so I’m fine.’
Semi-retired teacher Ian Rhodes, 66, and his wife Sue, 58, from Alton in Staffordshire, arrived at the Mall at 11am yesterday (SUN) to claim their spot – although they said they would sleep in deckchairs rather than pitch a tent.
Mr Rhodes said: ‘The only other time I’ve queued overnight for anything was when Stoke City got to Wembley for the cup final in 1972, and I waited overnight at the club shop with my friends to get tickets.
‘People have said we’re mad, but sanity is relative.’
Mrs Rhodes said the couple’s two adult sons were a bit concerned about their parents ‘roughing it’ overnight in London, but said: ‘I told them we were going to do it anyway – when has their mother ever done what she was told?’
Paulette Galley, from Boston in Lincolnshire, said she was determined to stay on The Mall overnight.
The 54-year-old kitchen assistant, originally from south London, said: ‘I might not get any sleep but I don’t care. She was my Queen, and I want to pay my respects to her.
‘There is no way I wouldn’t be here.’