WINDSOR, England — Prince Philip meticulously planned the final royal ceremony he would attend: his funeral. But he couldn’t account for the coronavirus forcing royal planners to scale back the event.
Still, hundreds of mourners and well-wishers ignored public health advice to stay home due to Covid-19 restrictions, flocking to Windsor Castle to pay their final respects to the queen’s consort, who died at age 99.
“I know they told us to stay away but we haven’t,” said Fiona Oldham, 53, an admin worker who traveled from near Blackpool in northwest England with her friends. “I’m a real royalist — I absolutely love them.”
Oldham, who also attended the London funeral of Princess Diana in 1997, described Philip as a “character” and the “power behind the throne” of Queen Elizabeth II, offering his loyalty to the now-bereaved sovereign.
Like many gathered in Windsor, she was also keen to see Princes William and Harry together during the ceremonial procession Saturday, lamenting Harry’s stateside move.
“We miss him. … I’m hoping that the queen burns his passport,” she said, chuckling. “We feel that he’s ours.”
Inside the castle, the royal family was honoring Philip’s life and service to the queen, to whom he was married for 73 years. Military musicians outside St. George’s Chapel maintained a certain distance from each other, while inside just four choristers sang and 30 members of Philip’s family wore masks. The queen sat alone and at a remove from the other attendees.
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Outside the ancient castle’s walls, Isabelle Wallace, a teacher from France, said she could not stay away.
“I’m a bit naughty. … I think it’s something to witness,” Wallace, 50, said.
“My husband is Scottish and quite anti-royal — he’s bald and he’s washing his hair today,” she added, acknowledging not everyone in Britain shared her royalist sentiments.
Wallace said she also couldn’t ignore “stories of his racism,” referring to previous public remarks by the outspoken Philip, but added he’d done a lot for young people and the environment.
The Duke of Edinburgh was interred in a royal vault close to historic English kings such as Henry VIII and George VI, the queen’s father, on Saturday. The funeral was organized by Philip, with hand-picked music, prayers and a specially adapted Land Rover hearse to carry his coffin.
The royal family has not been immune to the impacts of the virus either, with Prince Charles testing positive in March 2020. Both the queen and her late husband had also been vaccinated, according to Buckingham Palace.
Wandering around the busy town, Kaya Mar, 64, carried a large painting he’d made of Philip, calling it a tribute to his life.
“He’s done a lot for this country and he was the glue for the royal family,” Mar said. The painter, who traveled from London, added that Greek-born Philip hadn’t had it easy in the royal establishment as “an outsider.”
The queen, 94, who has called her husband her “strength and stay,” struck as a lonely figure sitting unaccompanied in St. George’s Chapel.
Millions are expected to tune in from across the globe to the televised but muted funeral.
Many will take an interest from Commonwealth nations — a collection of mostly former British colonies — where the queen remains ceremonial head of state for some.
Matthew Callender remembers the excitement of seeing the queen and Philip in Barbados as a schoolchild in 1977. Now, working as head doorman at a Windsor hotel in the shadow of the castle, he said many back home would be sad.
“He was loved in Barbados and the Commonwealth because of his cheeky character; he was just a funny man,” he said, holding the door.
Barbados, along with Jamaica, recently expressed interest in becoming a republic. But Callender said despite the politics, the queen and her late husband “will always be loved.”