By Adam Geller
National AP Editor
LONDON — In the early afternoon, the scent of thousands of lilies and roses wafted through the air outside Buckingham Palace. But the pilgrims kept arriving, bearing ever more bouquets and notes of affection addressed to the only queen most had ever known.
The scene outside the wrought iron gates was just as Nick French expected. But when he left a London hospital on Friday, still staggering 10 days after surgery for prostate cancer, there was no doubt he would join them. Setting out on foot for an hour-long walk through the city, French rummaged through seven mostly exhausted florists until her arms were filled with flowers of purple and cream, pink and violet.
“I felt the need to come here,” said the 50-year-old social care consultant from neighboring Kent, standing behind a police barricade. Certainly, Elizabeth II, born into royalty and bound by duty, had lived a life of palaces and pomp. But in the Queen’s decades of unwavering stewardship, French said, an ordinary man had found an inspiration and a kindred spirit.
Elizabeth’s life, “brings me hope because the Queen has always been an incredibly charitable person, a decent person even in the face of great adversity,” he said, “and it gives me a model to try to move forward in my own life, post-cancer.
A day after the death of the longest reigning monarch in British history at 96, French’s tribute echoed through the crowds that thronged Buckingham and the memorial square that presides over the palace.
Those present were, of course, self-selected – people who cared about the Queen and had come to express their affection. But the pilgrimage was notable for more than its size; it was also striking how it underscored the multitude of roles visitors say the monarch held in the lives of those she may never know.
“You have inspired generations of young women like me to serve the great nation that has flourished under your leadership,” read a note written in purple marker, left at the door.
“Farewell, my darling,” reads another, tied to a bouquet of yellow roses. “Thank you ma’am…for being a beacon of hope and stability in troubled times.”
And yet another: “We thank you for all that you have stood for. For your sense of duty, care, compassion and love for us, your people.
The outpouring of flowers and heartfelt notes in public places evoked, for those old enough to remember, another dark week in London 25 years ago – the days after Princess Diana, the former daughter-in-law of the Queen, was killed in a car accident in Paris. Then a nation poured out its public grief in a way not quite different.
For David Hunt, a 67-year-old retiree from the British Library, the Queen was a symbol of a bygone era and her death a reminder of all that has changed since the early days of her childhood reign. And Claire McDaniel, 48, said she came when she was done working at a skincare store because it was the right thing for a monarch who, to her, almost felt like A grandmother.
“During the pandemic, she came on TV and said, ‘It’s bad, but it will get better. We will meet again and meet again. And I think as a country that was exactly what we needed,” McDaniel said.
Not far away, classmates Adam Al-Mufty and Oliver Hughes, both 16 and in school uniform, said they had come to Buckingham Palace to observe a chapter of history. But there was something more.
“She represented all of us,” Al-Mufty said, acknowledging that it was unlikely that a teenage student and ruler could identify with each other. “She was very down to earth.
French, who came to the palace after an MRI to check that a recent operation had removed all of his cancer, said his fondness for Elizabeth started in childhood but has grown stronger in recent years.
Following the death of French’s father in 2019, he said he found comfort in watching the Queen’s grace and solidity at the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip. As she grew older and her own health deteriorated, her determination to enjoy the places and things she loved — while maintaining her role as queen — inspired her, he said. he declares.
When he arrived at Buckingham Palace on Friday, he arranged four small bouquets of flowers into a generous bouquet held with a headband given to him by another admirer in the crowd. Arrived at the barricade, he handed them over to a policeman, who promised to find a good place at the foot of the palace gates.
This provided a small comfort. But in the weeks to come, the pain of losing Elizabeth will be hard to hide, said McDaniel, the retail worker. After all, the Queen’s face and name are everywhere – on UK money and postage stamps, on an air terminal at Heathrow and on London’s brand new Underground line.
“It will be tough, but we’ll get through it,” McDaniel said. “That’s what we do. We’re English. We’ll have some tea and carry on.