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Fans are camping out ahead of the queen's funeral, braving the crowds and the chaos

Groups of people camp outside Buckingham Palace in London.
Europa Press via Getty Images
Groups of people camp outside Buckingham Palace in London.

LONDON — On the eve of Queen Elizabeth's funeral, under the shadow of Big Ben, people packed into the area near Parliament to observe a nationwide moment of reflection.

After a minute of silence, followed by a hearty round of cheers and applause, much of the crowd quickly dispersed — except for those who would be spending the night right there on the sidewalk.

Dozens of groups had set up tents, sleeping bags, folding chairs and pizza box towers along the blocked-off street where the queen's casket will travel on Monday. Camping out before a royal event is a beloved tradition for some and a bucket-list item for others, but special for all.

Michelle Larsen, 42, traveled from Oregon with her daughter and her mom, with whom she's spent many late nights watching royal events on the TV. They booked their flights to London the very day the queen died.

Michelle Larsen 42, poses for a picture with her child McKinley Larsen, 11, and mother Barbara Tuma, 67, where they are camping overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.
/ Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
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Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
Michelle Larsen 42, poses for a picture with her child McKinley Larsen, 11, and mother Barbara Tuma, 67, where they are camping overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.

"It's been [in] our thought process like, 'Hey, she's lived a long life ... so if this happens and we can go, let's do it,'" she told NPR.

They were particularly excited to experience such an event among the British people, and they said so far it hasn't disappointed. They've been surprised and impressed at how many people keep showing up to pay tribute and how friendly and welcoming everyone has been. Larsen's mother, Barbara Tuma, 67, has especially appreciated hearing from younger women who admire the queen and saw her as a grandmother-type figure (they both go by "Granny," she added).

Members of the public camp behind barriers lining the procession route ahead of Monday's funeral for Queen Elizabeth II in London.
Marco Bertorello / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Members of the public camp behind barriers lining the procession route ahead of Monday's funeral for Queen Elizabeth II in London.

"I just always looked up to her ... and now I look up to her even more," Tuma said. "I have more respect for what King Charles is going to be."

The trio booked a hotel room for the trip and packed sleeping bags in case they decided to go camping instead — which they did on Sunday night. And they had plenty of company.

Nearby, 24-year-old Bethany Harris was getting ready for her second night of camping, and she noticed there seemed to be more people this time. NPR asked: What was it like to sleep out there? She wouldn't know.

"I had about an hour's sleep at about half-five this morning," Harris told NPR. "There's just so much noise, there's so much going on, you just can't sleep. It's like there's some sort of, not exciting atmosphere, but there's just an atmosphere of unity and stuff like that, it's just really, really nice."

Her neighbor Michelle Berrisford, 64, agreed. She came alone because her daughters couldn't make it, and she spent much of the day bonding with Harris and her family.

"I went to Diana's wedding, I went to her funeral, I went to Kate and William's wedding, and I just had to come," Berrisford said.

This time is totally different, she said, with fewer campers and a more somber tone. She may not have known what to expect, but as a seasoned royal camper, she knew what to pack.

"No matter what time of year, always bring warm clothes, layer after layer after layer," she said. "And a glass of wine."

Hardish Purewal drinks a glass of fizzy next to her friend Loo Blackburn as they camp overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.
/ Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
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Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
Hardish Purewal drinks a glass of fizzy next to her friend Loo Blackburn as they camp overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.

Farther along the sidewalk, a group of four women made a cozy setup of their own, complete with British bunting for decoration.

Hardish Purewal, Loo Blackburn and Rosie Johnson have been friends for more than 20 years — since their now-adult children were in school together — and Rosie's daughter, Ella, joined them too.

Rosie Johnson and her daughter Ella Johnson camp overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.
/ Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
/
Elizabeth Dalziel for NPR
Rosie Johnson and her daughter Ella Johnson camp overnight outside of Westminster Hall and the houses of Parliament in London.

They've braving the cold, armed with jackets and gin, because they want to pay their respects to the queen — who they consider one-of-a-kind and "the nation's grandmother."

"Tomorrow is about saying goodbye ... and showing respect to an amazing, wonderful, strong woman," Purewal told NPR.

They're also excited to see the procession, not just for the world dignitaries, but also for the British leaders and agencies who are participating, too. Blackburn added:

"It's a real sort of celebration of everything that's British."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.