When she succeeded her father George VI, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union. She met nearly every major figure from politics to entertainment and sport including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pele and Roger Federer.
Despite being reputedly just 1.6m tall, she dominated rooms with her presence and became a towering global figure, praised in death from Paris and Washington to Moscow and Beijing. National mourning was observed in Brazil, Jordan and Cuba, countries with which she had little direct link.
“Queen Elizabeth II was without any shadow of a doubt the best known figure in the world, the most photographed person in history, the most recognisable person, and the fact that world leaders are going to be pouring into London for the funeral … is saying a lot about this iconic figure,” historian Anthony Seldon told Reuters.
Transport chiefs said one million people were expected in central London for the funeral, while police say it will be the biggest security operation ever in the capital.
People on the way into London spoke of their motivations for being there ranging from a sense of taking part in history, expressing national pride and honouring a woman who had led Britain through so much change over the decades.
Alistair Campbell Binnings, 64, said he left his home in Norfolk at midnight to make his way to London.
He added that he had not been to a royal wedding or funeral before, but he felt compelled to be in the capital for the funeral.
“This is a one-off. We would only be here for the queen. We just felt we had to be here. She was what we always needed in a time of crisis.”
King Charles III, his siblings and sons Princes William and Harry and other members of the Windsor family will slowly walk behind the coffin as it is taken on the gun carriage to Westminster Abbey, led by about 200 pipers and drummers.
The tenor bell of the Abbey – the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years – will toll 96 times.
“Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service,” David Hoyle, the Dean of Westminster will say.
In addition to dignitaries, the congregation will include those awarded Britain’s highest military and civilian medals for gallantry, representatives from charities supported by the queen, and those who made “extraordinary contributions” to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
TWO MINUTE SILENCE
Tens of millions in Britain and abroad are expected to watch the funeral of the monarch, something which has never been televised before. It will end with the Last Post trumpet salute before the church and the nation falls silent for two minutes.
Afterwards, the coffin will be brought through central London, past the queen’s Buckingham Palace home to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, with the monarch and the royal family following again on foot during the 2.4km procession.
From there, it will be placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a service at St George’s Chapel. This will conclude with the crown, orb and sceptre – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.
The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official in the royal household, will break his Wand of Office, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and place it on the casket.
It will then be lowered into the royal vault as the Sovereign’s Piper plays a lament, slowly walking away until music in the chapel gradually fades.
Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of the queen and her husband of more than seven decades, Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.
“We’re so happy you’re back with Grandpa. Goodbye dear grannie, it has been the honour of our lives to have been your granddaughters and we’re so very proud of you,” grandchildren Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie said.
The State Funeral Service of Queen Elizabeth II will be available “live” on meWATCH to viewers in Singapore from 3pm to midnight (Singapore time).