Foreign leaders catch the bus from Chelsea checkpoint

·3-min read

Large swathes of Chelsea were locked down on Monday morning as world leaders swapped diplomatic cars for buses on their way to the Queen’s funeral.

With a few exceptions, heads of state, prime ministers and ambassadors from across the world travelled to the Royal Hospital Chelsea amid tight security.

They then boarded coaches transporting them two miles to the service at Westminster Abbey which began at 11am.

Police closed down access to the roads surrounding the hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners, some of whom were seen walking in groups towards Westminster.

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
The Dean of Westminster David Hoyle greets US President Joe Biden and Jill Biden ahead of the funeral (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Uniformed officers turned away and redirected bemused cyclists, joggers and dog walkers back towards Sloane Square as a small crowd of residents and journalists gathered on the pavement.

From around 7.30am, a succession of cars with blacked out windows and diplomatic number plates arrived, along with police escorts in 4x4s, sweeping down Lower Sloane Street to a checkpoint by Turk’s Row.

There was a clear order of attendees, with presidents and prime ministers the first to arrive, followed by foreign royalty and finally the Chinese contingent.

African leaders were among the first, with Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan crossing the cordon, followed by delegations from Malawi and Nigeria.

More presidents and prime ministers followed in a succession of high performance vehicles, including Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
International heads of state and dignitaries arrive at the State Funeral of the Queen at Westminster Abbey (James Manning/PA)

The German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier rode in a sleek, dark BMW.

Soon after, Italian president Sergio Mattarella arrived in his embassy’s Maserati, drawing appreciative comments on Twitter from his compatriots.

Next came royalty, King Philippe of Belgium arriving in a ceremonial uniform with gold collar while King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain waved to the small crowd.

Not everything ran smoothly. The car carrying the Emir of Qatar, the only vehicle flying its national flag from its bonnet, was forced to wait in front of television cameras for 20 minutes at the checkpoint while police officers spoke back and forth on their radios. Eventually, it was allowed to enter.

Last to arrive was Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan, sweeping through the checkpoint at speed in a motorcade several vehicles long.

Unlike his fellow dignitaries, Mr Wang did not even have to pause for entry.

One member of the public on a zebra crossing just outside the cordon became briefly stranded in the middle of the road but was waved through by an officer seconds before the Chinese diplomatic convoy arrived.

From the Royal Hospital, a succession of coaches took the foreign dignitaries along the banks of the Thames to Westminster Abbey and the Queen’s funeral.

US President Joe Biden travelled separately in an armoured vehicle, nicknamed The Beast, which was held up in traffic on the way to the Abbey but arrived shortly after 10am.

The close protection operation around the Queen’s funeral was the biggest ever run by the Metropolitan Police as hundreds of foreign dignitaries attended the funeral.

The transport arrangement is understood to have been made due to a road capacity issue around Westminster.

Some commentators on Twitter likened the world leaders’ coaches to school buses.