All summer long, my family wondered if it would happen while I was here. It would be so interesting, so curious to see what a country does when their monarch dies.
It was our third day in London. The BBC had reported early in the day that her family was coming to meet her in Scotland. All day, between orientation meetings and during trips on the tube, we theorized what would happen. It would be crazy, we said. The ruling monarch hasn’t died since the 50’s, so wouldn’t it be insane if we were here when it happened again?
We had a group chat with people from the London program. That evening, someone messaged the group.
They just announced the Queen passed.
Are things going to shut down?
Now that the Queen has passed.
I think the only day things are off is the day of the funeral.
Funeral is nine days after passing.
I checked the BBC to confirm the news. I looked out my window and wondered if the people I saw walking down the sidewalk already knew. I got calls and texts from everyone at home; my family, my friends, people I hadn’t spoken to in months, all wondering what the world looked like here, and I didn’t have much to tell them. So I looked. I put on a black coat and went downstairs.
Two English students were there talking about what happened. Apparently everyone was talking about it—Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, their Discord chats. One of them cried, the other just wanted to go to their room and eat ice cream. They told me stories about how they saw her once on a field trip in primary school, how they were overjoyed to see the sweet little old lady. They argued; one asked how the people are expected to care about the death of a royal when the royals don’t care about them. The other said no, the Queen was good, everything she did on her own was brilliant, but she was limited by the others. They agreed that everything would be better if Diana were still alive, if the royals hadn’t had her killed. They worried about the future of their government, their leaders, and their country.
I walked down the street with a group of American students and wondered aloud how it must feel for the country to lose someone so vital. This is like if Obama died, someone said. But we never have presidents die in office, another said, our closest comparison is Kennedy. That’s different, I thought to myself, he was killed. There was something to do, someone to chase. What do you do when there’s no one to blame?
The next day, IES Abroad had us scheduled for a walking tour around central London, our first foray into the bustling city we recognize from the movies. As we all met in the lobby, we asked each other; what will have changed? Should we even be going? Will it look insensitive to be touring a city that’s mourning their queen? But despite it, we went.
As it turns out, we weren’t alone. People still filled the streets, heading to work or buying coffee. Tourists still stood in herds, phones out to photograph Big Ben or the London Eye (and I was no exception). We passed by other tour groups on fun, though slightly uneasy, tours of the city. Her loss was still evident, however. We spotted countless newspapers with her portrait decorating the entire front page. Flags across the city flew half-mast. At the end of our tour, standing in Borough Market just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral, we all listened as mourning bells tolled for the Queen.
Eventually, social media from the U.S. caught up. I watched jokes and memes about her fill my For You page and my Twitter feed. In the days that followed, the queue started. Hundreds of thousands of people, myself included, walked along the river for hours just to see the Queen lying in state. Days later, the world watched her funeral.
I cannot speak to the nature of British politics, nor the experience of a local during the loss of their monarch. All I can speak to is what I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard. I’ve heard from IES Abroad faculty and professors alike that I shouldn’t expect all of the UK to mourn her; royalism isn’t as popular as it was in the past. I haven’t heard anyone speak ill of the Queen, by any means, but no one has been crying in the streets either. Maybe it’s true that the people just haven’t taken it too hard, but my guess is that it’s something else. London is a rain-or-shine city. The people I’ve met here leave early for work in case of tube delays, they carry umbrellas in case of rain, and in these times of loss, they have persevered all the same. I haven’t been here long enough to tell you exactly why that is. All I can do is watch in interest and respect as this country mourns a leader of 70 years, a thing that my country will never have to do.
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Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!