The British have always had a reputation as a nation of queuers, but even by our standards these past few days have been a lot. As the late Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin sits in London’s Westminster Hall, thousands of people have queued up to pay their respects to the country’s longest serving monarch. To manage this miles-long line, which many have taken to simply calling The Queue, the British government has turned to platforms including Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to provide up to the minute updates.
Although The Queue is currently at capacity, with the government advising new people not to join it, as of 9AM UK time this morning DCMS reported that it was 4.9 miles (nearly 8km) long , with an estimated queuing time of 14 hours. That’s over half a day of slow shuffling to spend, at most, a few brief moments in the same room as the late Queen’s coffin.
Multiple times a day, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been tweeting out updates about The Queue, noting the length of the line, as well as how long new joiners should expect to wait before reaching Westminster Hall. The Twitter account has also been using the geolocation service What3Words (a service that assigns three short words to identify specific GPS locations) to point people towards the exact location of The Queue’s end.
But for anyone that needs even more up-to-date Queue information, there’s also a DCMS YouTube livestream, which contains up-to-the minute information about the line of mourners snaking their way over Westminster Bridge and along the south bank of the River Thames. As of this writing, a little under nine thousand people are watching.
There have been hiccups with the technology used to tame The Queue. Gizmodo reports that several of the What3Words locations tweeted out by DCMS have pointed to incorrect locations as far afield as California thanks to minor typos in the geolocation phrases. For example, what should have been shops.view.paths (a square just north of the Tate Modern, London) was accidentally tweeted as shops.views.paths (which points to Charlotte, NC).
But what does it all mean? I like this take from Twitter user @curiousguana, who asks whether The Queue could be “the greatest bit of British performance art that has ever happened?”
“It is the motherlode of queues. It is art. It is poetry. It is the queue to end all queues,” they write. “It opened earlier today and is already 2.2 miles long. They will close it if it gets to five miles. That’s a queue that would take two hours to walk at a brisk pace… You cannot have a chair and a sleeping bag. There is no sleeping in The Queue, for The Queue moves constantly and steadily, day and night.”
Writing in The New Statesman, Marie Le Conte muses whether “the Queue is, in its own British way, a textbook example of the ways in which people deal with grief. Something big and terrible has happened and you don’t know what to do with yourself, so you throw your whole being into something a bit absurd instead.”
Queen Elizabeth II’s death is one of those odd national moments that’s hard to properly engage with. It’s not an event you physically have to show up for like an election or a major sports match, it’s just… in the air. In this moment, The Queue is one of the few tangible things you can actually interact with and get a sense that you’re participating in a moment in history.
When Elizabeth II’s father King George VI died in 1952, a similarly lengthy line of mourners formed to pay their respects. In a piece published that year about the so-called Great Queue, Time noted that “no one could measure or plot precisely the serpentine columns of human beings that formed and reformed, doubled, branched and coiled back again along London’s streets and across chilly Thames bridges, to get a last glimpse of the dead King’s coffin.” 70 years later, as the web and GPS technology allow us to track the undulations of The Queue online in minute detail, the situation couldn’t be more different.