No doubt David Beckham could have procured himself a VIP pass. But instead, the former England captain and multi-millionaire, did what every other ordinary well-wisher wanting to pay their respects to the late Queen had to do: He queued. And queued. And queued.
At 3.18pm and after more than 13 hours, Beckham finally reached his goal, shuffling past the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall where Her Majesty has been lying in state since Wednesday evening.
Beckham, agile at evading tackles in his playing days, thought he would dodge the worst of the queue, by arriving at 2am. Only to discover, alas, that tens of thousands of other mourners had had the same idea.
The result was that the queue never really diminished in the night - as organisers had hoped - and by mid-morning had steadily grown to the point where it had to be closed to new arrivals. The Government called it “a pause”.
In a bizarre twist - and perhaps this could only happen in queue-happy Britain - there then formed another queue to join the queue.
This second queue - and here it gets truly surreal - spawned a third queue to reach the second queue to reach the queue.
Anybody confused by this - and who wouldn’t be? - should feel sympathy at least for the tens of thousands of people desperately trying to see the late Queen lying in state before the cut-off time of 6.30am on Monday, the day of her state funeral.
Hundreds of thousands of people are set to be bitterly disappointed and will miss out. For those who persevere, Beckham’s 13-hour wait will now seem like child’s play.
By Friday night, the official time to reach the front was more than a full day. The Government's live tracker declared: “Entry to the queue has resumed. Expected queueing time is over 24 hours.” The social media feed then added ominously: “Overnight temperatures will be cold." A low of 7C (44F) was predicted.
Beckham, 47, dressed in a fashionable cloth cap, overcoat, jacket, white shirt and black tie, can now count himself as one of the lucky ones to have made it to the front. He had survived the ordeal on “Pringles, sherbert lemons, coffee, sandwiches and doughnuts”.
'I was so lucky I was able to have a few moments in my life to be around Her Majesty— ITV News (@itvnews) September 16, 2022
'A sad day but it's a day to remember the incredible legacy she left'
David Beckham told ITV News' @neilconneryitv he's queued 12 hours to see the Queen Lying in Statehttps://t.co/tMtgIn9Bst pic.twitter.com/vPYR8SObXB
“I thought by coming at 2am it was going to be a little bit quieter - I was wrong,” Beckham told ITV News after successfully negotiating the queue. “Everybody had that in mind. Everybody wants to be here and part of the experience and celebrate what Her Majesty has done for us.”
Beckham spoke with emotion about what the late Queen had meant to him. He had, of course, met her on a number of occasions. “The most special moment,” he said, was when receiving his OBE.
“I took my grandparents with me, who were the ones that really brought me up to be a huge royalist and a fan of the Royal family, and obviously I had my wife there as well,” he recalled.
“To step up, to get my honour, but then also Her Majesty, to ask questions, to talk, I was so lucky that I was able to have a few moments like that in my life, to be around Her Majesty.
“Because we can all see with the love that has been shown, how special she is and how special she was and the legacy that she leaves behind. It’s a sad day, but it’s a day for us to remember the incredible legacy that she's left.”
He had sung God Save The Queen before all of his 115 international matches, which he said “was something that meant so much to us [footballers]. So this day was always going to be difficult, and it's difficult for the nation”.
Showing a camaraderie presumably born of being England captain, Beckham bought fellow queuers doughnuts at about 7am as spirits threatened to flag, according to one Twitter user. Beckham’s appearance later slowed down the movement of the line.
One well-wisher posted on Twitter as they approached Westminster Hall: “The queue is now full of people trying to photograph David Beckham and forgetting to actually move onwards. It’s madness! I feel a bit sorry for him, but he’s taking it very well. It’s made me almost forget that we've been in the queue almost TWELVE HOURS though.”
Beckham wasn’t the only celebrity prepared for the long slog. Susanna Reid, 51, host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, accompanied her mother, offering tips on Twitter on how to survive the queue.
Reid managed the task in just over seven hours, arriving at Westminster Hall at 8.45pm on Thursday. “Wear the comfiest shoes you own,” she suggested, adding: "Don't carry too much in a bag - water is freely available and there are lots of cafes along the route. Also plenty of toilets.”
Not all celebrities did the hard yards. Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, who present This Morning, used the VIP route to pay their respects. That looked a less valiant effort after Beckham’s 13-hour shuffle. Parliamentarians were facing a backlash after it emerged they had “direct access” to Westminster Hall and, not only that but had been given four extra tickets each for family and friends. In contrast, cleaning staff and caterers working in Parliament had no option but to join the queue.
The queue’s official end on Friday night remained at Southwark Park, five miles from Westminster Hall. But as early as noon on Friday, officials began to shut off access to it. That created the “queue for a queue for a queue” with bottlenecks forming just to try to reach the park.
Further confusion was caused when the Government tracker announced the queue was “paused”, except that stewards on the ground seemed unaware and continued to usher people in to join.
Queueing times ballooned throughout the day. That provided work for the London Ambulance service which had cared for 435 patients who fell ill along the route by the end of Thursday. Numbers are likely to spiral over the weekend.
Evening - along with my lovely mum and her very good friend, I have just experienced a moment in history - witnessing the Queen lying in state in Westminster Hall. At once majestic and peaceful. pic.twitter.com/f6hhdI96L6— Susanna Reid (@susannareid100) September 15, 2022
Well-wishers reaching Westminster Hall at the right time would have seen the unusual combination of two fathers and two sons on duty guarding the Queen's coffin.
Colonel Peter MacMullen, 53, and his son Lieutenant George MacMullen, 24 from the Irish Guards, stood to attention. So too did Captain Richard Trant, 26, also from the Irish Guards, and his father Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Richard Trant, 56, one of the Gentlemen at Arms who formally served with the Queen's Royal Lancers.
Col MacMullen said it had been “mostly luck and chance” that the two pairs of fathers and sons had been among the 30 soldiers on the same watch.
“Lucky” was a word much used on Friday by those who had soldiered on to reach the end of the queue. How many tens of thousands are left disappointed in the coming 48 hours will worry ministers in charge of the queue. Everyone will be keeping their fingers crossed.