Costumes, wands, castles, a piper: Queen Elizabeth’s funeral had it all

Spectators at the Horse Guards Parade in London watch live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral over the phone.
Spectators at the Horse Guards Parade in London watch live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral over the phone. (Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post)

LONDON – There have been royal blockbusters before, but never a show like this.

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was an intricately organized farewell production that had it all: elaborate costumes, bagpipes and tolling bells, soldiers on horseback, cannons and castles.

The streets leading to the procession were crowded, but the number of viewers around the world was high on TV.

Many analysts said that the funeral could be the most-watched single TV event in history, with at least some of the 7.7 billion people holding it worldwide.

Those who had been planning it for decades clearly had this spectator in mind.

An estimated 650 million people saw the first landing on the Moon in 1969, a record for the time. More than 2 billion people are believed to have watched Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, but better cell phones and the Internet have made it much easier to watch a major event today.

Huge screens were installed at outlying squares in cities across the country. More than 100 movie theaters and churches showed big screen broadcasts of the BBC’s coverage. The Royal Shakespeare Company held a funeral screening at its theater in Stratford-upon-Avon in central England.

Since Covid, several churches have been set up for Zoom’s funeral. On Monday, many at the Holy Trinity in London’s Sloane Square watched with the smell of incense in the morning air.

Pubs and restaurants that usually don’t have TVs have got one for funerals. At Motcombe, a Mediterranean restaurant not far from Buckingham Palace, people sip coffee or champagne.

“We thought some people might not be able to handle the crowd and needed a place to watch,” said Ken Anderson, who said his son was the owner.

When police did not allow more people into London’s Hyde Park, several thousand people stood in an empty street near Harrods department store listening to hymns over loudspeakers.

“I’ll never see a choice like this again,” said Jillian Martin, a teacher from Northern Ireland.

British officials are betting that the massive effort to give the Queen a fair farewell, the cost of which is still unknown, will return far more in tourism revenue.

Japanese broadcaster NHK carried the funeral live with an accompanying explanation, and funeral was the third top trending word on Japanese Twitter.

Hundreds of people in Hong Kong watched the funeral on their phones and tablets, offered flowers and waved the Union Jack flag outside the British consulate. Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half until it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

In Sydney, 56-year-old Graham Cousens was out with friends, but said he had set up his television at home to record the funeral.

“This is such an important moment,” he said. “Not that I personally feel that much, but I can see what it means for English.”

Even Google darkened its logo in Britain on Monday in honor of the Queen.

Not everyone in central London was happy with the heavy security presence, closed tube stations and blocked roads.

“I can think of better things to spend all this money on. Sure, it’s great for tourism and flower-sellers, but I’m not sure the Queen will attend this extravagant event,”42 Said Lily Haverford, a teacher of the year.

“It’s beautiful as a picture, but in the end, what does it really mean?” he said.

Many people around the world said in interviews that it was a spectacle worth staging.

To create the background, London landmarks were explored. New rolls of sod were placed near Wellington Arch, where the coffin was transferred to a hares for the 25-mile journey to the Queen’s final resting place at Windsor.

Even that chariot was built for TV, with huge windows and interior lighting designed to give people the best possible view of Her Majesty’s coffin – but more importantly That’s to make it “pop” on television.

“It has to look good for TV,” said one busy gardener, picking up “dead bits” from flower beds near Buckingham Palace before a funeral.

The music was powerful, with military bands, bagpipers and drummers accompanying the queen’s coffin.

players were fully clothed, The Grenadier Guards wore bright red tunics and their famous bear hats, others were wrapped in ceremonial goose feathers. Beefeater in his distinctive ruffled collar. King Charles III and Prince William, now first in line to the throne, dressed in crisp military uniforms heavy with medals.

Photos: Inside the royal uniform factory

In Bermuda, Kim Dae, an expatriate who is involved in community theater and watched the funeral at a theater that showed it live, said Britain put on a “perfect show”.

John Reynaga, a British film and TV producer, said live events are nerve-racking to pull off.

But he added that the involvement of the military, the planning of the government over the years and the royal family behind it is unique.

“They talked for hours today about jewelry, scepters, symbols – and people love it,” he said.

Along the processional route of London, with huge British flags, it seemed for a day that everyone was an extra on a film set.

The mourners in the streets laid down their arms and bowed their heads in a moment of silence. Some wore royal themed attire.

Many threw flowers, it rained so much that the royal horse driver had to wipe them off with windshield wipers.

“We take great pride in doing things right,” said 24-year-old Jess Fox, from York, England, who left home at 4:45 a.m. to fly to London. feel.”

People outside Westminster Abbey observed a two-minute silence to commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 19 September. (Video: The Washington Post)

The funeral was the perfect bookend production for the Queen’s seven-decade reign, which began with the first televised coronation in history and ended with the most-watched royal event of all time.

Many Britons bought TVs for the 1953 coronation, and then wore ties and dresses to watch.

A BBC planning document archived in the National Archives shows that the network understood, even then, that it was broadcasting to the planet, not just the British.

“The entire technical resources of the BBC will be deployed to cover the world’s coronation from midnight on June 2nd,” it said.

There have been other blockbuster shows in the royal catalog, mainly featuring Princess Diana in a starring or supporting role. The glamorous princess with the electric smile basically brought the royal family into a brightly lit new world – the way color TVs pushed black and white aside.

First was Diana’s 1981 “wedding of the century” with then-Prince Charles, then her funeral 16 years later, then the wedding of her celebrity sons, William and the elegant Catherine, then Harry and Meghan – finally, an actual actress. In. royal co-star.

Speaking with a Washington Post reporter at a dinner in Washington in 1994, Diana was asked how it felt to walk down the aisle with the eyes of the world in her fairy tale dress.

“Oh my god,” she said. “My dress was so wrinkled; All I could think was, ‘I need an iron.’ ,

And of course, the royal family has also been the subject of a real television sensation.”Crown”, which has blurred the lines between fact, fiction and fantasy.

Jennifer Hassan of The Post analyzes how Netflix’s “The Crown” portrayed Queen Elizabeth II during her decades-long reign. (Video: Eli Caron/The Washington Post)

Here are ‘The Crown’ episodes to watch to learn more about the Queen

Monday was about Elizabeth staging the final show of her historic reign. British TV networks ran programs throughout the day without commercial breaks.

The BBC has taken some heat from critics, who believe that the state-funded network has overhauled coverage.

“It was sad when she first died,” said Brendan Hoffman, 50, who was sitting in a bar in Sydney. “But this,” he said, pointing at a large television showing the Queen’s body on the way to Windsor Castle, was “mourning porn”.

The funeral was planned with the kind of precision that would make a Broadway stage manager happy. The Queen’s coffin at the official event was not going to Westminster Abbey at 10:44 a.m. at 10:40, not 10:45.

William Shawcross, a royal biographer, said that planners must have worked out exactly how long it would take the gun carriage to make the journey, measuring and measuring every move of 140 or so Royal Navy officers, down to a second. .

Late on Monday in Windsor, after a service at St George’s Chapel, the Lord Chamberlain broke his ceremonial wooden office stick and placed it over the Queen’s coffin, marking the end of her reign.

As the Sovereign’s Piper lamented, his coffin disappeared from view as it was lowered into the Royal Vault.

And the curtain fell.

Michael E. Miller in Sydney, Amanda Coletta in Bermuda, Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo and Karina Tsui in Washington contributed to this report.

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