UK unites in grief to bid farewell to queen

·3-min read

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales united in grief on Monday to bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II.

The United Kingdom's four nations came to a near-standstill for the state funeral of their longest-serving monarch.

The ceremony at Westminster Abbey and procession was broadcast live to 125 cinemas across the UK -- and to millions of living rooms nationwide.

Britons gathered at their homes, in community hubs and in pubs, as the nation paused for a special public holiday.

- 'Absolute rock' -

The funeral was beamed onto big screens at civic buildings including at Belfast City Hall, and key locations including Edinburgh's Holyrood Park and London's Hyde Park.

"She was an absolute rock," said bus driver Simon Freedman at the gathering in Belfast, one week after King Charles made his first visit as head of state.

He noted the late queen had met political parties in both the province and in Ireland -- and not just unionists who are loyal to the crown.

"She'd be there for anyone and everyone," Freedman added.

In Scotland, thousands gathered in front of Holyroodhouse Palace -- where the queen's coffin was held after her death on the royal Balmoral estate almost two weeks ago.

And on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia, moored off the Scottish capital, Pipe Major Steven Dewar played a lament.

Proceedings were also viewed at seven English cathedrals including Ely, Lichfield, Liverpool, Manchester and St Albans.

And the funeral was screened at cinemas and other notable locations in Wales.

That included at the Rhondda Valley's Lion in Treorchy pub, which Charles had visited in July and even poured a pint in his prior role as Prince of Wales.

- 'Massive shock' -

"We wanted to be open because this is a place where people come together not just in the good times but also when we need to join as a community," said landlord Adrian Emmett.

"We all knew this day would come but it was still a massive shock when it happened."

The funeral was meanwhile attended by dignitaries including Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The Scottish leader, who is spearheading a push for independence, nevertheless heaped praise on the late queen.

"She was the great constant," said Sturgeon, adding it was a "great honour" to represent Scotland.

Thousands of others thronged central London to experience the historic occasion in person.

Mourners stood silently for the funeral, before applauding the coffin after it passed along the procession route.

"I just appreciate what the queen has done for the Commonwealth and for the country," Neale Farr, 56, from Kent, told AFP on The Mall near Buckingham Palace.

"She's always done the right thing, always gave everything, even to her last days."

- Bringing communities together -

Back in Belfast, teacher Anna-Marie Pawson said the queen's passing had helped unite everyone across divides.

"There's nothing that's going to bring people together like this, like politicians or whoever," Pawson told AFP.

"Globally, wherever you are, this has really brought different communities together."