King Charles III is travelling to Wales for the last of his visits to the four nations of the United Kingdom as preparations for the queen’s state funeral gather pace.
With queues to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lying in state reaching over 6.4 kilometres long, Charles and his three siblings – Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward – were due to hold a family vigil in front of the coffin.
The so-called Vigil of the Princes, with all four royals in ceremonial military uniform, will last for 15 minutes from Saturday 0430 AEST (Friday 1830 GMT).
British officials on Thursday pledged “a fitting tribute” to the queen, who died last Thursday at the age of 96 after a record-breaking 70 years on the throne.
Her death has triggered an outpouring of emotion, with tens of thousands queueing for hours to pay their respects to the late monarch.
Charles, until last week the longest-serving Prince of Wales in history, was due to fly by helicopter to Cardiff early on Friday.
A spokesman for the king said he had a “lifelong commitment to the country’s people” and would have a private audience with the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford during his visit.
The king was “resilient and hard working” despite his loss, and “focused on leading the family, the nation and realm and the Commonwealth in mourning for Queen Elizabeth II”, the spokesman added.
‘Unique and timeless’
The queen will be honoured with a state funeral – the first Britain has seen in nearly six decades – at Westminster Abbey on Monday morning, with more than 2,000 guests expected.
After the service, the coffin will be transferred by royal hearse to the queen’s Windsor Castle home, west of London, before a committal service at St George’s Chapel attended by many past and present royal staff.
A private burial will follow attended only by members of the royal family in which the queen will be laid to rest alongside her late husband Philip, parents and sister.
US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian leader Anthony Albanese and France’s Emmanuel Macron have all confirmed their attendance at the funeral, as have Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and numerous other royals.
“The queen held a unique and timeless position in all our lives,” funeral organiser the Duke of Norfolk Edward Fitzalan-Howard, also known as the Earl Marshal, told reporters at a briefing.
“It is our aim and belief that… the next few days will unite people across the globe and resonate with people of all faiths, whilst fulfilling Her Majesty and her family’s wishes to pay a fitting tribute to an extraordinary reign,” he said.
The state funeral will follow four days of the queen’s coffin lying in state at Westminster Hall.
The line to enter the vast hall where the coffin has lain since late Wednesday has attracted a seemingly endless stream of mourners.
The casket is draped in the Royal Standard flag, with the Imperial State Crown, her ceremonial Orb and Sceptre on top, with tall, flickering candles at each corner.
“It’s very peaceful,” Londoner Rupa Jones, 43, told AFP after emerging from the cavernous space, the oldest part of Britain’s centuries-old parliament, calling the experience “overwhelming”.
She and her aunt had queued for nearly seven hours through the night for their fleeting moment in front of the coffin.
The sombre atmosphere inside is completed with guards in ceremonial uniform posted around the podium in a constant vigil.
Mourners have marked their moment in front of the coffin in various ways, from bows or curtsies to the sign of the cross or by simply removing their hats.
Some wiped away tears. Others brought infants in pushchairs. Old soldiers stopped and gave one last salute to their former commander-in-chief.
By early afternoon Thursday, the queue had grown to more than 6.4 kilometres along the south bank of the Thames river, with people set to wait through the night.
Organisers have prepared up to 10 miles of queueing infrastructure, with expectations that hundreds of thousands will participate, in particular over the weekend.
Musician Jacqui Smith, who joined the queue on Wednesday evening, was sad but enthusiastic about the reign of the new king.
“I’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” she told AFP from Lambeth Bridge, within sight of Westminster Hall. “I love the queen, but I’m a real Charles fan.”
William and wife Kate, meanwhile, travelled to Sandringham, the family’s private winter retreat in eastern England, to view the floral tributes left by members of the public.
Charles, 73, was made Prince of Wales by his mother in 1958, and on his first full day as monarch last Friday he bestowed the title on his eldest son.
The historic title has been given to the heir apparent since the start of the 14th century.
Thursday’s visit was the first official engagement conducted by the new Prince and Princess of Wales.
Elizabeth’s youngest son Prince Edward, 58, and his wife Sophie visited Manchester in northwest England to view the civic book of condolence at the city’s central library and floral tributes.