Britain and the world say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II with a state funeral
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Nearly 2,000 people crowded into Westminster Abbey this morning for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. The archbishop of Canterbury, Reverend Justin Welby, spoke about the queen's life of duty and service and a pledge she made as a young woman.
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JUSTIN WELBY: Her late majesty famously declared on her 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and commonwealth. Rarely has such a promise been so well kept.
MARTIN: The dean of Westminster, Reverend David Hoyle, also reflected on the queen's devotion to her family and her country.
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DAVID HOYLE: With gratitude, we remember her unswerving commitment to a high calling over so many years as queen and head of the Commonwealth. With admiration, we recall her lifelong sense of duty and dedication to her people.
MARTIN: I'm here with NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Frank, you and I have been watching the ceremonies all morning long, the funeral itself and the procession afterwards, as the queen's family walked in silence behind the gun carriage carrying the queen's casket. So much focus on her eldest son, who assumes her place as monarch. How has King Charles navigated the days since the queen's passing?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's been really interesting to watch, Rachel. I saw him walk up the Royal Mile last week. This is in Edinburgh, the gothic part of Edinburgh. And he was clearly - I was about 10 feet from him, and he was clearly grief stricken. And he also - I'll tell you, he looked like an older man, which is what he is, 73, but he also seemed weighed down. He was wearing his military regalia. And he looked tired and, you know, really sad.
Now, since then, he has gone out to other parts of the United Kingdom and basically been meeting lots of people and shaking hands and thanking them. So he was out in front of Buckingham Palace. He was also - you know, we had this long line here down the south bank of the Thames, five miles, to see the queen's casket. And he came out and with Prince William as well. And so there's also a sense now that this is a transition that's occurred, and he's now trying to really reach out to people and try to really connect with them as the new monarch of the United Kingdom.
MARTIN: Because he has some challenges to face right now.
LANGFITT: Yeah, he really does. I mean, you've got to remember, the queen - it's very interesting. The queen was more popular than the monarchy. There are people who would say that they were Elizabethans rather than monarchists.
MARTIN: They separated Queen Elizabeth from the institution.
LANGFITT: Yeah. No, I mean, this is fundamental to understanding how the monarchy works here. King Charles III is a different kettle of fish. He's - he doesn't have anywhere near the popularity for a variety of reasons, but some going all the way back to his divorce and the way he was seen to be treating his wife, his first wife, Princess Diana, and that has really stuck with him. One of the challenges he faces is his mother, as you were mentioning earlier, really focused on service. What is - how is he going to define his monarchy? One thing, people say, is the environment. It's an issue he was - as a young man, he was out in front on. And maybe that's a way for him to be relevant to a younger group of people here in the United Kingdom.
MARTIN: We haven't mentioned it yet today, but it's important to note this is a family who have been beset by scandal. You mentioned not just the tragedy of Diana's death, but family fissures made plain today.
LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, a lot of stuff. I mean, if you think about Prince Andrew, he was - you know, he was stripped of his royal duties because of a scandal involving Jeffrey Epstein and charges that he denied, the prince denied, of having sex with a girl who was underage. But he ended up having to walk in both of the processions without his military regalia, and it looked like he was being shamed. But then when it came time to come into Westminster Hall to be with the coffin, he was able to wear his military regalia because of the permission of his brother, King Charles III.
MARTIN: And now it will be upon King Charles to project the family and the monarchy into the future. The proceedings have been taking place here in London, but, of course, people around the country are mourning today, watching from a distance. NPR's Philip Reeves is in a public square in Newcastle upon Tyne, a city in the northern part of the country. Phil, tell me exactly what you're seeing, what you've been hearing from folks.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, in front of me, for the last couple of hours, there's been a crowd of people standing here beside a war memorial in the public square. I apologize for the background noise. The cleaning guy has just arrived in his van.
MARTIN: Of course.
REEVES: But until now, they've been standing - yeah, and standing in silence. It's been very touching to see, actually, young people, old - the old, multiethnic crowd, some old soldiers and medals, mostly standing, during the service itself, stock-still and in silence. But they are now beginning to disperse and beginning to relax. And there've been scenes like this around the country. And - because there've been big screens set up in other cities as well. Cinemas, movie theaters have also been showing the funeral. And in pubs, people have been able to gather there to watch it, to gain some kind of collective comfort, I think, because I think Britons are - this is the final line, in a way, in what's been a quite painful few days for them.
Listen to Megan Montgomery (ph). She's 25. She was in the crowd this morning, and she's from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
MEGAN MONTGOMERY: It is just nice to see how many people it impacts. And I think it gives a bit of closure for everyone, obviously, because, you know, after she died. And it's been 10 days since. So it's been a long process, it feels, you know? So it's nice for it to come to a close in a nice way that everyone can share together.
MARTIN: Have you heard that reflected in other parts of the country? 'Cause you've been traveling around, Phil.
REEVES: Yeah, I mean, it depends who you speak with, I mean, that - you know, admit that there are people, quite a few people, who in the last few days have, you know, come up and said that they do not support the royal family, or if they do support the monarchy, they think it's too large, it should be diminished and are worried about the amount of money being spent on it. And I've met them here in Newcastle, which is pretty much a royalist town. But they've been very respectful in offering those views.
And the majority of people I've spoken to have been very strongly admiring of the queen and are great fans, seeing her as a sort of source of stability in turbulent times. Sometimes they talk about it - 'cause I'm fascinated as to what drives this - in a kind of quasi-religious way. A lot of people say she's everyone's granny. And of course, the military here would say, well, she was their commander in chief. They took an oath of allegiance, and that's why they're loyal to her.
MARTIN: I think we have a clip of someone you spoke with, Christopher James (ph), a former gunner with the Royal Air Force Regiment. Let's listen to what he had to say.
CHRISTOPHER JAMES: When I joined, I gave an allegiance to the queen. My allegiance still stands. It also transfers to the king. She's a great ambassador for not just the forces but for the whole of England. I think everywhere in the world knows that.
MARTIN: Christopher James speaking to our NPR's Phil Reeves. Phil, thank you for...
REEVES: You're welcome.
MARTIN: ...Sharing those reflections with us from Newcastle upon Tyne, a city in the north of England. We're going to turn now to NPR's Lauren Frayer because the perspectives that you bring us from India, where you are based, Lauren, are very important on this day. India was once known as the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. It's been 75 years since India cast off British colonial rule. Attitudes have changed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India not attending the services today. I want to talk about that. But first, just give me a sense of the reflections you've collected from folks.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Yeah, it's remarkably different here. There are no get-togethers to watch the funeral here. There are no screenings at cinemas and in public squares, like the one Phil Reeves is in. Britain and its royals are really an afterthought in India. They're not even in the tabloids. We've got Bollywood stars for that. I've been talking to folks at the old Victoria Terminus. It's a train station that used to be named for the U.K.'s Queen Victoria. And here's an accountant I met there, Richa Mahapatra (ph). I asked her what she thinks of the queen's death.
RICHA MAHAPATRA: I do not think anything, actually. I did not have any, like, sort of lot of respect for her or anything. So yeah, it didn't make any change for me, frankly speaking.
FRAYER: So, you know, the West may be following this funeral closely, but a huge bulk of the world's population, maybe even a majority, especially in countries like India, where I am that used to be a British colony, a lot of folk see the queen as a relic of an antiquated, exploitative past.
MARTIN: OK, so, Lauren, the prime minister is one of the few global leaders who did not attend today's funeral. I mean, his absence carries symbolism, does it not?
FRAYER: It does. India's ceremonial president, Droupadi Murmu, is attending instead of Modi. She is India's head of state. The queen was her counterpart. So that's sort of the protocol there. But she's also an Adivasi woman, a member of one of India's Indigenous tribes. Now, Modi, on the day that the queen died, happened to be giving a fiery anti-colonial speech. He was renaming a street named after Queen Elizabeth's grandfather.
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PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).
FRAYER: "It was a symbol of our slavery under British rule," Modi said. And he later tweeted condolences for the queen and declared a day of national mourning. But, you know, last week, Modi was at a security summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping. He has skipped a chance to meet President Biden in London. He's skipping the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week. There's a danger of reading too much into these things, but it also could be an indication of, you know, who Modi thinks is important these days.
MARTIN: So explain, Lauren, how does British colonial rule - how is it reflected in everyday life in India, if at all, anymore?
FRAYER: Well, India is the most populous country in the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth is still relevant for sporting competitions, for diplomacy. But, you know, it was more relevant during the Cold War as sort of a tool of Britain's soft power. India did not retain the monarch, the British monarch, as the head of its state. Barbados, another former British colony, recently became a republic. And there are a handful of other countries, former British colonies, who are considering the same.
MARTIN: NPR's India correspondent Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. We also heard from NPR's Frank Langfitt here in London and NPR's Phil Reeves in the north of England. Thanks to all three of you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.