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

Spectators stationed along London's Horseguards Parade watch live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral on the phone.
Spectators stationed along London’s Horseguards Parade watch live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on the phone. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

LONDON – There have been royal films before, but there has never been a show like this.

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was an intricately orchestrated farewell that included everything: elaborate costumes, bagpipes, chimes, soldiers on horseback, cannons, and castles.

The streets along the procession routes were packed with crowds, but the largest audience was watching on television around the world.

Many analysts said the funeral could be the most-watched television event in history, with a large portion of the 7.7 billion people around the world catching at least some of it.

Obviously, those who have been planning this for decades have this audience in mind.

An estimated 650 million people watched the first moon landing in 1969, a record at the time. It is believed that over two billion people watched Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, but cell phones and improved internet have made it much easier to watch a major event today.

Giant screens have been set up in outdoor plazas in cities across the country. More than 100 cinemas and churches have shown broadcasts on big screens for BBC coverage. The Royal Shakespeare Company performed the funeral at its theater in Stratford-upon-Avon in central England.

Since Covid, many churches have been set up for Zoom funerals. On Monday, many people sat in benches at Holy Trinity in London’s Sloane Square, watching as the scent of incense filled the morning air.

Bars and restaurants that usually don’t have a TV got one for the funeral. In Motcombs, a Mediterranean restaurant not far from Buckingham Palace, people were drinking coffee or champagne as they watched.

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

When the police were no longer letting more people into London’s Hyde Park, several thousand stood on an empty street near Harrods listening to chants blaring through loudspeakers.

“I will never see the likes of this again,” said Gillian Martin, a teacher from Northern Ireland.

British officials are betting that the massive effort to give the Queen a proper farewell, the cost of which remains unknown, will yield much more than tourism revenue.

Japanese broadcaster NHK broadcast the funeral live, with simultaneous translation, and the funeral was the third most popular term on Japanese Twitter.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of people watched the funeral on their phones and tablets, laying flowers and waving the Union Jack flag outside the British Consulate. Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half until the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

In Sydney, Graham Cousins, 56, was out with his friends, but said he had put his television on at home to record the funeral.

“It’s a very important moment,” he said. “Not that I personally feel that much, but I can see what that means for the English.”

Even Google turned its logo black in the UK on Monday in honor of the Queen.

Not everyone in central London was pleased with the massive security presence, closed tube stations and clogged streets.

“I can think of better things to spend all that money on. Sure, that’s great for tourism and florists,” said Lily Haverford, 42, a teacher, but I’m not sure the Queen would be this great.

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

Many of the people interviewed around the world said it was a spectacle worthy of the show.

To prepare the background, the landmarks of London were cleaned. New rolls of meat were placed near Wellington Arch, where the coffin was moved to a niche for the 25-mile journey to the Queen’s final resting place at Windsor.

This chair was even made for TV, with huge windows and interior lighting designed to give people the best possible view of Her Majesty’s coffin – but most importantly, make it “pop” on TV.

“It should look good for TV,” said a gardener busy picking out “dead cuttings” from flowerbeds near Buckingham Palace before the funeral.

The music was powerful, with military bands, bagpipes, and drums escorting the Queen’s coffin.

The players were In perfect clothes. Grenadier guards wore bright red jackets and their famous bear-skin hats, and some even wore ceremonial swan feathers. Beef in its distinctive hoops that are ruffled. King Charles III and Prince William, now first in line to the throne, wear elaborate military uniforms filled with medals.

Photos: Inside the factory that makes the royal costume

In Bermuda, Kim Dae, an expat who participated in community theater and watched the funeral in a theater showing it live, said Britain put on a “perfect show”.

John Rinaga, a British film and television producer, said the live events are nerve-racking.

But he said the involvement of the military, years of government planning, and the royal family behind it all, is unique.

“Today they talked for hours about celestial bodies, proportions, and symbolism — and people love them,” he said.

Along the London Parade Road, lined with huge British flags, it seemed for one day that everyone was extra on a movie set.

Mourners in the streets closed their arms and bowed their heads in a moment of silence. Some wore royal costumes.

He threw so many flowers, like rain from them, that the royal chauffeur had to clean them with windshield wipers.

“We are very proud of doing things right,” said Jess Fox, 24, of York, England, who left her home at 4:45 a.m. to arrive in London. “The British are happy and proud to be given their role.”

People outside Westminster Abbey observed a minute’s silence in memory of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 19. (Video: The Washington Post)

The funeral was the perfect production at the end of the Queen’s seven-decade reign, which opened with the first television coronation in history and ended with the most watched royal event ever.

Many Britons bought televisions for the 1953 coronation, then donned neckties and dresses to watch.

A planning document from the BBC, stored in the National Archives, showed that the network had realized, until then, that it was broadcasting to the planet, not just the British.

“All BBC technical resources to cover the coronation will be deployed to the world from dawn to midnight on 2 June,” the statement read.

There were other popular shows in the royal catalog that featured Princess Diana in the title or supporting role. The glamorous princess with an electric smile basically brought the royal family into a new brightly lit world – the way color TV pushed aside black and white.

First it was Diana’s 1981 wedding to then-Prince Charles, then her funeral 16 years later, then the weddings of her famous sons, the elegant William and Catherine, then Harry and Meghan – finally she was a real-life actress as the royal co-star.

Speaking with a Washington Post reporter in 1994 at a Washington dinner party, Diana was asked how it felt when she walked down the aisle with the eyes of the world on her while she was wearing her fantasy dress.

She said, “Oh God.” “My dress was very wrinkled; all I could think about was, ‘I need an iron.'”

And of course, the royal family has also been the subject of a real TV sensation,”the crownblurring the lines between fact, fiction and fans.

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

Here are the episodes of “The Crown” to watch to learn more about the Queen

Monday was about Elizabeth and she will stage the final show of her historic reign. British television networks broadcast events throughout the day without commercial breaks.

The BBC has come under some criticism from critics who believe the state-funded network has exaggerated coverage.

“I was heartbroken when she first died,” said Brendan Hoffman, 50, as he sat in a Sydney bar. “But this,” he said, pointing to a large TV showing the Queen’s heart on her way to Windsor Castle, was “a grief over porn.”

The funeral was meticulously planned that would delight the Broadway director. The official schedule had the Queen’s coffin moved to Westminster Abbey at 10:44 a.m. not 10:40, not 10:45.

William Shawcross, a royal biographer, said that the planners would have been meticulously working out how long the rifle carriage would take to make the voyage, rehearsing every step of the 140 or so Royal Navy officers, right up to the second.

Late on a Monday afternoon in Windsor, after mass at St George’s Chapel, Lord Chamberlain broke the ceremonial wooden desk wand and placed it atop the Queen’s sarcophagus, a symbol of the end of her reign.

As the Sovereign’s Piper played a lament, her 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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