Oh dear, Holly. Oh my days, Phil. What in the name of Royal Wootton Bassett have you gone and done? United the nation, that’s what. In rage and wrath and an excessive, irrational outpouring of petty vengeance.
Bet you hadn’t planned for that when you skipped The Queue, eh? Sure, you insisted you had done no such thing; the video evidence of you being sneaked in – no other verb for it, Holly Willoughby, as you tiptoed across the grass so your exquisite spindly heels wouldn’t sink – would beg to differ.
Phillip Schofield, you too were hastily bustled in by minders through a makeshift gap in the barrier – in full view of the waiting mourners. Did you not pause for a moment and reflect on the optics? I know Tellyland is a self-contained, self-regarding world of its own. But, for pity’s sake, you of all people should understand. Optics. Are. What. You. Do.
The first rule of The Queue is, of course, you never skip The Queue. Actually that’s the only rule.
Apart from this single overarching principle; when paying your respects to the dead, you must also show your respect for the living. They, after all, are the ones who witness, the ones left behind. The ones who care about fairness and protocol.
Even in grief. Especially in grief. It is the reassuring scaffolding of choreographed ritual and good manners that stops everything and everyone from falling apart.
In the ensuing and ongoing row – tens of thousands have had nothing better to do than sign a spiteful petition to have the pair sacked amid cries for them to taken to The Tower by boat and kept there at His Majesty’s pleasure and so forth – a visibly upset Willoughby addressed the issue on air. She explained that, like hundreds of accredited press professionals, she and Schofield were given permission to access the hall and stand in the specially constructed media platform at the back.
“None of the broadcasters and journalists there took anyone’s place in the queue and no one filed past the Queen,” she said. “We, of course, respected those rules, however, we realise that it may have looked like something else and therefore totally understand the reaction.”
I was in that selfsame media gallery on the Saturday morning along with other journalists, immersed in the astonishing sombre silence at the Queen’s lying-in-state. There was something so still, so painterly, about the soldiers in full ceremonial dress standing guard round the catafalque. The beautifully lit white swan feathers of the Life Guards’ helmets; the Queen’s Guards’ bearskins softly ruffling in the breeze from the open doors – it was a breathtaking tableau to behold.
But what made it heartbreaking, what transformed it from dazzling regal spectacle to deeply human experience were the ordinary – extraordinary – people who queued for miles, for hours so they might spend a single moment with their glorious and blessed Queen. Each brief bow, salute, curtsy and wave spoke to all of us who watched from the gallery. A child waved. There were tears, still falling as people – her people – moved past. No longer a collective, but individuals, each with their own story to tell about how and when and above all why they came.
Storytelling is what sets us apart from other species – along with scones, fracking and Huw Edwards, obviously. It brings us together now as surely as it did around the huddled campfires of prehistory. Would any of those who queued for 10 or more hours have skipped the line if offered the opportunity? They might have thought about it but I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t feel immensely proud of being part of The Queue and the little-but-at-least-it’s-something sacrifices it entailed.
I was in Edinburgh when the queue formed outside St Giles’ Cathedral for the lying at rest. I was on The Mall when the procession left Buckingham Palace, in the media gallery at Westminster Hall and at Windsor on the Long Walk.
Everywhere I went I heard stories of loss and love and gratitude. The Liverpudlian nurse who stood in The Queue for 10 hours to see the coffin then drove to Windsor to watch the very final procession there. Would she have preferred a shortcut? Absolutely not, even though it meant missing out on Bank Holiday overtime.
The ex-serviceman in a wheelchair, medals glittering across his chest, who effortfully managed to stand to attention as the Queen’s hearse came into sight? He wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Neither would David Beckham or Tilda Swinton, who queued with the punters. Then again they don’t present ITV’s This Morning, which must be gruelling in its own remorselessly pleasant sort of way – although it has been noted that Susanna Reid from Good Morning Britain put in a full seven hours on her feet. Just saying.
Incidentally, to join the media group in the gallery, I entered exactly the same way as Holly and Phillip, but without the bustling air of hasty importance and mild skulduggery. There was no fuss. I just showed my press accreditation, my name was ticked off a list and I was walked to the briefing room by a member of the staff.
Just doing my job. As indeed were Willoughby and Schofield; if anyone is to blame for the farrago (and somebody must surely carry the can full of worms) it is their producers who should have thought the whole thing through. We’re back to the visuals, folks.
I do hope this nonsense will blow over. It’s silly and self-indulgent and at jarringly at odds with the dignity and restraint that Britain had shown these past two weeks. A baying social media mob is most certainly not what our late sovereign of happy memory would have wanted.