Tad Milmine felt a surge of emotion when he saw Queen Elizabeth’s coffin, aglow in a golden light, as it was carried into Buckingham Palace as part of the monarch’s final journey.
The Calgary resident, who went to London to pay his respects to the queen after learning of her death on Sept. 8, had just come back from dinner on Tuesday night when he saw people lining the streets around the palace area. He found out from one of the security officers that the queen’s cortege would be making its way down that street and managed to snag a front-row spot amid the milling crowd.
“When she was arriving back to Buckingham Palace there was this clap,” he said in a video interview from Green Park, which is across from the monarch’s official residence. “The cheers kind of followed the casket. You don’t hear voices. You just hear this clap. It was remarkable. It was absolutely remarkable.”
The queen died at her holiday home of Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands at the age of 96, plunging the United Kingdom into 10 days of national mourning. She had celebrated her Platinum Jubilee on the throne in June.
The death of the U.K.’s longest reigning monarch and Canada’s longest-serving head of state evoked grief from people around the world, and thousands have gathered in London to pay their last respects.
Milmine, founder of Bullying Ends Here and a constable with the Calgary Police Service, packed his bags and got on the first available flight as soon as he heard of the queen’s death.
“There was no thought. There was no preparation. That was just something I simply had to do,” he said. “Just to pay my respects, to say thank you. To show my thoughts and appreciation for who she was, who she represented — what she did for our country.”
Milmine had never met the queen, saying the closest he ever got to her was a glimpse from across the street during a trip to Scotland about 25 years ago. But he said seeing her coffin pass by him near the palace, as well as the sight of the casket travelling to Westminster Hall via horse-drawn carriage the next day, still stirred up strong emotions.
Sadness for the death of a beloved figure was tempered by reflections that she may now be reunited with her late husband Prince Philip, appreciation for her years of public service and gratitude that she’s now at peace, he said.
“It’s kind of conflicting,” he said. “A part of you wants to cry. The other part of you wants to smile.”
As the queen lay in state in Westminster Hall, a river of people silently streamed by the oak coffin to pay their respects.
The serpentine line of people and a nearly 24 to 30-hour wait deterred Milmine from joining the queue, he said.
But he said he plans to line up on Monday as the queen is taken on her last journey to Westminster Abbey for her funeral, then on to Windsor Castle where she will be laid to rest.
Besides the surprise and sadness Milmine has felt during his time in London, he said he expects to feel another swell of emotion once he’s left the pageantry behind and returned to his Calgary home.
He said the queen was the one constant adult he looked up to during what he described as a traumatic childhood, adding his grandparents were killed by a drunk driver when he was 11.
“It’s kind of like having a grandmother for the world,” Milmine said of the late monarch.
“She was our grandmother who you looked up to when times were tough and difficult. Because she’s neutral when it comes to politics — it was kind of nice — not having the political or the religious side. It was just the queen. And I love her for who she was.”