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REBECCA ENGLISH watches the determination of the royal ladies with red-rimmed eyes in mourning

The look on the Countess of Wessex’s face – her eyes rimmed red, biting her lower lip to stop the trembling – said it all.

At the sound of a clipped “left turn” from outside, Sophie looked nervously through the open door as if she couldn’t quite believe that this was the beginning of the end.

The sight of four royal women waiting in Her Majesty’s coffin at the entrance to historic Westminster Hall evoked memories of ‘the three queens’ – Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary – all living in the same house in 1952. hall mourned King George VI.

Yesterday each was consumed by her own thoughts. Our new Queen Consort, 75, wore a favorite glittering diamond stick insect brooch and was clearly struggling to hold back her tears, staring straight ahead with her arms stretched at her sides as she struggled to keep her composure.

Women in Black: The Queen Consort, Kate, Sophie and Meghan side by side at Westminster Hall yesterday.  The sight of the four royal mourners brought back memories of George VI's funeral in 1952

Women in Black: The Queen Consort, Kate, Sophie and Meghan side by side at Westminster Hall yesterday. The sight of the four royal mourners brought back memories of George VI’s funeral in 1952

Three Queens: Elizabeth, Queen Mary and the Queen Mother mourn King George VI

Three Queens: Elizabeth, Queen Mary and the Queen Mother mourn King George VI

Three Queens: Elizabeth, Queen Mary and the Queen Mother mourn King George VI

The sight of four royal women waiting in Her Majesty's coffin at the entrance to historic Westminster Hall evoked memories of 'the three queens' - Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary - all living in the same house in 1952. hall mourned King George VI.

The sight of four royal women waiting in Her Majesty's coffin at the entrance to historic Westminster Hall evoked memories of 'the three queens' - Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary - all living in the same house in 1952. hall mourned King George VI.

The sight of four royal women waiting in Her Majesty’s coffin at the entrance to historic Westminster Hall evoked memories of ‘the three queens’ – Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary – all living in the same house in 1952. hall mourned King George VI.

Show respect: As William and Kate leave, Harry bows his head and Meghan bows to the Queen's coffin

Show respect: As William and Kate leave, Harry bows his head and Meghan bows to the Queen's coffin

Show respect: As William and Kate leave, Harry bows his head and Meghan bows to the Queen’s coffin

Beside her sat the Princess of Wales, touchingly adorned with the diamond and pearl-leaf brooch that had belonged to the Queen, the tension of the past few days etched on her face. Occasionally she would lean over and talk to Sophie, 57, as they waited, but otherwise Kate stared diligently into the distance, hands clasped, as if preparing for the ordeal ahead.

Fascinatingly, there was a remarkable rift between Sophie and Meghan as the three working royals came together.

And the women’s body language spoke volumes to everyone in attendance, including myself—one of only ten journalists allowed to watch as the royal family handed over their beloved matriarch to the nation for its people to say goodbye. In fact, the Duchess of Sussex, 41, looked decidedly self-conscious from my point of view, just above her in the 900-year-old building, the oldest in the Parliamentary Estate.

With her shoulders back, her program and bag clutching, she was the most stylish and striking of them all. She was wearing pearl earrings that the Queen had given her as a wedding present. But there was something self-consciously uncomfortable about her attitude, which showed the depth of the gulf between herself and the rest of the royal family, even if you encountered them without any prior knowledge of the bitterness of the past four years.

Meghan, 41, holding black leather gloves, seemed so lost doing anything that at one point she rested her left hand in her pocket.

Fortunately, Sophie, who has a reputation as a royal peacemaker and is known to have extended a friendship hand to Meghan before, bent over after a few minutes to exchange a few words.

It gave Meghan, who had previously traveled in a car with the Countess of Buckingham Palace – while the Queen Consort and Kate, as the two eldest women now in the royal family, continued together – a reason to stay a little closer to her husband’s home. to go live. aunt.

Beside her sat a Duke of Kent, the Queen’s cousin, who at 86 looks so frail it was a miracle that he could stand, but whose determination to do so not only, but in full military uniform, your heart tore. Next to him was his brother, Prince Michael of Kent, 80, another ex-Sandhurst graduate.

Yesterday’s 20-minute shift was so small and so intimate that it sometimes felt like you were invading a private moment of sadness. The television cameras were hidden behind sympathetically decorated glass booths.

Earlier, a group of MPs and colleagues, as well as High Commissioners of the Realm, took their seats to the rear, mere specks in the cavernous, vaulted building. Then seven ladies-in-waiting of the queen took their positions close to the entrance. Some of them are in their 80s and have been by her side for over 60 years.

Soon after, a long line of the queen’s closest relatives came in: the Gloucesters, the Kents, the Ogilvys, the Chattos, and Snowdons. Each of them – more than 30 in all – loved and was loved by our Queen.

Support: The Sussexes were only holding hands at first

Support: The Sussexes were only holding hands at first

Overcome with emotion: Prince Harry wipes his eyes

Overcome with emotion: Prince Harry wipes his eyes

Support: The Sussexes were initially only holding hands (left); Overcome with emotion: Prince Harry wipes his eyes (right)

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin is carried in procession on a gun carriage of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where she will be in state until the early morning hours of her funeral on Monday

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin is carried in procession on a gun carriage of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where she will be in state until the early morning hours of her funeral on Monday

Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin is carried in procession on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where she will be in state until the early morning hours of her funeral on Monday

Lady Louise Windsor accompanied her brother James, Viscount Severn in the service

Lady Louise Windsor accompanied her brother James, Viscount Severn in the service

The Queen’s granddaughter, Lady Louise Windsor, accompanied her brother James, Viscount Severn, in service at Westminster Hall today

Her husband Mike looked solemn as he stood beside his wife after Her Majesty the Queen's body was transported into Westminster Hall

Her husband Mike looked solemn as he stood beside his wife after Her Majesty the Queen's body was transported into Westminster Hall

Her husband Mike looked solemn as he stood beside his wife after Her Majesty the Queen’s body was transported into Westminster Hall

The coffin with the queen rests in Westminster Hall for the inset state

The coffin with the queen rests in Westminster Hall for the inset state

The coffin with the queen rests in Westminster Hall for the inset state

Kate’s poignant brooch tribute

1663194510 81 REBECCA ENGLISH watches the determination of the royal ladies with

1663194510 81 REBECCA ENGLISH watches the determination of the royal ladies with

The Princess of Wales paid tribute to the Queen during the service yesterday by wearing her diamond and pearl leaf brooch (above).

The queen wore the jewelry, with three large pearls in the center of a leaf decorated with paves, in 1999 during a tour of South Korea (below).

Kate has worn it before, in 2017 for a World War I commemoration in Ypres, Belgium.

1663194510 75 REBECCA ENGLISH watches the determination of the royal ladies with

1663194510 75 REBECCA ENGLISH watches the determination of the royal ladies with

The last to arrive as part of the group were those of the Queen’s grandchildren who did not participate in the procession or who did not arrive in an official car: Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, accompanied by their husbands; Zara Tindall and her husband Mike; and the Queen’s youngest grandchildren, Prince Edward’s children, Lady Louise, 18, and James, Viscount Severn, 14.

The choir of His Majesty’s Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace heralded the arrival of the Queen’s casket at Westminster Hall.

To the soaring notes of Psalm 139, her coffin adorned with the Royal Standard and Imperial State Crown with a wreath of white roses, dahlias and pines from the gardens of Balmoral, as well as pittosporum, lavender and rosemary from the gardens of Windsor where she adores walked in, was brought in just after 3pm.

I had been warned by the royal staff that the coffin was ‘small’, but it was still breathtaking to see it in person, given the magnitude of the Queen’s reach and worldwide status.

It made its way to the center of the hall, set on a catafalque dressed in royal purple and gold, with a towering candle at each corner.

The Queen Consort, Kate, Sophie and Meghan all bowed as the coffin was carried past – Camilla couldn’t take her eyes off it, as the Countess of Wessex looked utterly bereft – before joining their husbands at the door for a procession through the center of the hall.

Once in position, the family stood and looked at the casket for the duration of the service, which was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, supported by the Dean of Westminster, and which perfectly brought together two of the Queen’s most important things: her Christian faith. and her family.

As the service ended, female members of the family bowed to the coffin, while the men bowed their heads – Meghan sweeping low on the floor. Among the first group of senior royals to leave, she and Harry were only holding hands.

But they were later followed by Zara and Mike Tindall and others who also showed gestures of affection. And I saw the king for a moment lift his eyes heavenward and sigh deeply, as if to arm himself for the difficult days to come.

The family was followed by a small group of loyal servants and courtiers. Intriguingly, there was no sign of her right hand, her dresser Angela Kelly, being with her in Balmoral until the very end.

Speaking on the occasion of her 2012 Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall, the Queen said of the setting: ‘We are reminded here of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance that created. I have been privileged to witness part of that history and, with the support of my family, to recommit myself to the service of our great country and its people, now and for years to come.”

How fitting, then, that Westminster Hall is now the central focus of the nation’s dedication to perhaps its greatest head of state.