'I have to pay my respects to my old boss': Former soldier waits 12 hours to view Queen's coffin

·4-min read

A former soldier who waited more than 12 hours to view the Queen's coffin in Edinburgh has said he was "prepared to wait even longer" and that it was an experience he would never forget.

George Higgins, 61, was the first in the queue on Monday morning and went straight to secure his place after he finished his night shift at a hospital.

He was waiting from 6.45am, more than 10 hours before official guidance said the public would be allowed into St Giles' Cathedral, where the Queen is lying at rest.

Mr Higgins, a security officer at the Royal Infirmary, described the "moving scene" inside the cathedral, where it was so quiet "you couldn't even hear anyone breathing".

"It was absolutely amazing... you could have heard a pin drop. It was a really calming feeling," he said.

"I'm glad I did it, and I would do it all over again. It was a poignant day, and I'll never forget it."

Speaking to Sky News while he was in the queue down The Meadows, about 15 minutes from the cathedral, Mr Higgins said: "We get the privilege to be able to do this in Scotland, where if she had passed in England we wouldn't have. Me coming from Edinburgh, my home city, and she's lying in St Giles', I wouldn't miss it for the world.

"I have to go and pay my respects to my old boss."

'I got quite emotional afterwards... it was just overwhelming'

He had been joined in the queue at about 10am by his friend Sheila Purvis, who said the Queen meant "everything" to her.

Ms Purvis, 72, told Sky News she had had the privilege of meeting the Queen.

"I got to meet her twice, once at the Ceremony Of The Keys at Holyroodhouse, and when I was presented to her in 2009 because she was giving new colours to the Royal Regiment of Scotland," she said.

She added: "I noticed her skin looked so soft, it looked lovely. I was thinking, this old lady has the skin of a 21-year-old."

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After paying her respects, Ms Purvis described only hearing her own footsteps as she walked up the coffin.

"I took a bow, and it was really moving. I stepped back and walked slowly away, but I felt like I could have stayed longer.

"I got quite emotional afterwards, when I was on my own... it was just overwhelming."

Asked if it was worth the wait, Ms Purvis replied: "Absolutely - would have waited twice as long. The Queen was the most wonderful woman on Earth."

Mr Higgins added: "What she did for this country, for Great Britain and us, is unfathomable."

Wearing his Northern Ireland General Service medal, the First Gulf War medal and the Queen's Golden Jubilee medal, Mr Higgins recalled parading for the Queen in 1983 as a young soldier.

"I can't believe I'm actually saying that… it was probably one of the best times of my life and one of my proudest moments," he said.

Ms Purvis was also wearing medals belonging to her uncle and her own Silver Jubilee medal and Imperial Service medal for her 26 years in the civil service.

In their perfectly pressed uniforms, the pair were among many who had dressed up to see the Queen's coffin and the procession from the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

'Puffed and pregnant'

Travelling from Glasgow, Frayja Macleod wore a long black dress and a short veil for the occasion, but was disappointed when she was unable to get on the Royal Mile to see the procession.

"It was pretty upsetting. I legged it, I was puffed, and pregnant, but they just said nope, no more room for people," she said.

"Afterwards, I walked about two hours to get to the end of this queue."

Asked why she had decided to come to Edinburgh for the occasion, she said: "I thought this is my only opportunity to pay my respects and say thank you for everything.

"I'm quite prepared to stand all day and all night if I have to for the once in a lifetime opportunity to do that."

Mourners are able to view the Queen's coffin at St Giles' Cathedral from 5.30pm on Monday until 3pm on Tuesday.

Official guidance had said the cathedral would be open to the public for 24 hours from 5pm, but a briefing given to Scottish Government staff, and seen by Sky News, contained the amended times.