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Crowds camped out to get a good spot to honor the queen and watch history

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people waited in line for many, many hours to see Elizabeth lying in state in Westminster Hall. NPR's Marc Rivers is here in London with us. And Marc went out to talk with some of them.

MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: For anyone who's been to London, you know that Big Ben looks like it's snuggling right up next to Westminster Hall. That's where the queen was lying in state ahead of today's funeral. Over a chilly weekend, thousands of people huddled closely together as well. They lined up for miles from Westminster Hall across the river, all the way past Tower Bridge for a chance to see the queen's coffin. Overlooking a sun-dappled Thames, I spoke with Teresa Bhatti (ph). Her wait was somewhere from 10 to 14 hours. But she didn't mind.

TERESA BHATTI: It's absolutely fantastic.

RIVERS: Bhatti drove here from west Sussex in southeast England to stand in the queue. That's what long lines are called here. She told me she was making the most of meeting people from all over the country.

BHATTI: Oh, I'll tell you, I've made friends in this queue. We've exchanged numbers. We've shared food. So it's been great. These 10 hours have just flown by. We've enjoyed every single second of it.

RIVERS: That about summed up the mood in the queue - reflective, sure, but also light, almost festive. Stephen Hanson (ph), of the English Civil War Society, was a crowd favorite due to his festive dress.

Describe to me what you're wearing.

STEPHEN HANSON: What I am wearing is typical for the 17th century, a royalist.

RIVERS: A long, black coat with blooming pantaloons - large, lacey white collar and shirt cuffs and a broad, feathered hat.

HANSON: I am wearing this today because as the English Civil War Society, we commemorate and we educate. And what we do is commemorate historical events. And today is truly an historical event.

RIVERS: Hanson said that sharing this once-in-a-generation slice of history was helping keep spirits up among his fellow queuers.

HANSON: This is quite possibly the queen's legacy. Look at this queue. All these people, she's brought us together. It's been a wonderful atmosphere. You've made - I've made a lot of friends along the way. And we're very buoyant. And we look after each other and keep each other going.

RIVERS: Although, he did acknowledge that the wait time had taken its toll, too.

HANSON: It's now really starting to hurt. The lactic acid is really kicking in (laughter). We've walked over 22,000 steps, maybe.

RIVERS: Alan Fox-Hill (ph) was feeling the effects of a very early rise.

ALAN FOX-HILL: I mean, I guess we have been up since 4 o'clock this morning. So we have been in the queues for, by the time we get to see her, probably 14, 15 hours. But that's nothing compared to what she's actually done for the country.

RIVERS: Heather Labanya (ph) was using the time to reflect on English history. Her mother is from Zambia, a former British colony. And her dad is from Scotland.

HEATHER LABANYA: We were always very aware of what was going on from the colonial past. So I think I've always felt able to hold the understanding of all these composite parts. But the way my parents also raised me was to hold that rich history that we do have as a family, as a culture, with a forward-looking at, how can we rebuild a future that includes everybody?

RIVERS: Britain's monarchic future now rests with King Charles III. His coronation will come next year. Teresa Bhatti hopes that he's learned from his mother.

BHATTI: He's had a lot of years to actually train for the job, but, you know, a hard act to follow.

RIVERS: I'll admit I didn't wait 14 hours to get to Westminster Hall myself. But I did talk to a couple of other queuers on the way out. Debbie Harvey (ph), whose family is from Southampton, says she was overcome with emotion when she saw the queen's coffin.

DEBBIE HARVEY: Surprisingly overwhelming, I didn't - I'm really shocked at how emotional I felt. I just didn't expect that, too, you know? I don't know if it's because you've been waiting so long for it to happen. Or maybe because you've seen it so much on media. And then when you actually kind of see it in real life, it's just surreal almost.

RIVERS: It was the same for Keith Simpson (ph) from Yorkshire.

KEITH SIMPSON: I'm quite speechless. Just coming out, it was just - the emotion hits you. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do - got to the middle of the coffin and then just bowed my head. And I just said, thank you.

RIVERS: After so many hours waiting in line and such profound emotions, how to wrap up this day? Debbie Harvey and her family didn't have to think twice.

HARVEY: We're going to go to have a drink (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, we are, definitely - definitely going to have a drink.

RIVERS: I think they earned it.

Marc Rivers, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.