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United in grief: UK mourns Queen Elizabeth II

September 9, 2022

Grief comes in many shapes and forms. And those in the crowd outside Buckingham Palace had a broad spectrum of views on Queen Elizabeth II and her legacy.

People stand outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, which have been decorated with flowers
There was a profound sense of loss as Britons mourned the queen's death outside Buckingham Palace on FridayImage: Carl Court/Getty Images

"So, actually, we were supposed to be on a tour today inside Buckingham Palace today. But it got canceled because of everything that happened since last night."

Those are the words of Nick, 34, who — along with his wife — is visiting London for the first time from the United States. "What a day!" the US Army veteran said, echoing the sentiments of millions of people across the country and the world.

Nick said he didn't expect to witness "history in the making" when he arrived in the UK just two days ago. Yet he has found himself among the thousands of people who gathered outside Buckingham Palace on September 9, the first day for Britain without Queen Elizabeth II as the sovereign and monarch.

American tourist outside Buckingham Palace
American tourist Nick had kind words for the queen — despite the US leaving the crown in 1776Image: Sertan Sanderson/DW

It may be hard for tourists to appreciate the institution that the crown represents, yet Nick and his wife chose to be present at this solemn moment affecting people across the United Kingdom.

"Her legacy is pretty profound. Being in charge for 70 years — that's impressive. I mean, generations of people are affected by her and by what she did for this country and for other countries as well. So I have nothing but respect for her," Nick said.

Queen of the realms?

Similar sentiments were shared by Rachel, a 30-year-old teacher from London who said that, in losing the queen, "we've all just realized how much she means to us. So we just want to pay our respects. That's why we're here."

Rachel, who is from London, is Black. She's familiar with criticism on social media by some Africans and those in the diaspora of the queen's legacy.

Two Black Londoners speaking to DW outside Buckingham Palace
Though they have mixed feelings about the monarchy, Rachel (right) and Sarah are mourning ElizabethImage: Sertan Sanderson/DW

"There's a validity in some of the things that are being said. Of course, I also always think that people are just jumping on a bandwagon. But I also think the monarchy has done lots of positive things around the world. To me, there are fewer minuses than positives," she told DW.

Mourning with caution

Rachel's friend Sarah, 27, agreed. "I think maybe we should give it a few weeks, and then start talking about those things. Right now, we need to let people just mourn for a little bit, because it is quite an upsetting thing," she said.

Outside Buckingham Palace, dozens of languages are spoken, and people from all creeds and colors are coming together in this moment of collective bereavement. It almost feels like politics doesn't matter for a moment — but that would qualify as a fallacy.

"Good riddance if you ask me," said 33-year-old accountant Tim, attracting a few sideways glances. "This country is ready for a revolution the way things are going."

Londoners reflect on the death of Queen Elizabeth

It's safe to say that Tim is not a royalist, but hearing such clear messages from someone who chose to be outside the late queen's London residence is surprising. "It's still all a bit of fun. But, if you ask me, we need to get rid of the lot of them," he said, nodding toward the palace.

'Huge shoes to fill'

It's fair that people have reservations — after all, the vast majority of Brits have known no monarch but the queen. You'd have to be in your mid-80s to even remember her father, George VI, on the throne.

And, with the contemporary royals being more recognized for their public gaffes — from the "Tampaxgate" scandal of King Charles III while he still was Prince of Wales to Prince Andrew's questionable involvement with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein — there might be a void in leadership that will be difficult to fill, especially when it comes to doing so in a dignified manner.

"She leaves huge shoes to fill, obviously. I'm not that much of a royalist myself, but I think, just because she's been there through everything, she's reigned for so long, the fact that she's gone now it is quite harrowing for all of us," Sarah said.

The 96-year-old monarch has left a void that will be examined and scrutinized from various angles in the weeks and months to come. But sometimes it perhaps takes an outsider's view to look at things from a different, more clement perspective.

"Now is not the right time for fighting," said Nick, the American tourist, speaking with a sense of authority you would expect from a former soldier.

"Nobody's perfect," Nick said. "But she's sure leaving a hard act to follow."

Edited by: Sonia Phalnikar

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson A human who seeks to make sense of the world and wants understand what truly motivates peopleSertanSanderson