By MIKE CORDER, JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA Associated Press
LONDON (AP) – U.S. President Joe Biden paid his respects at Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin on Sunday as thousands of police officers, hundreds of British troops and an army of officials made final preparations for the Queen’s state funeral in a spectacular display of national mourning, which will also be the largest gathering of world leaders in years.
People across the UK observed a minute’s silence at 8pm in memory of the only monarch most have ever known. At Westminster Hall, where the Queen lies in state, the steady stream of mourners paused for 60 seconds as people watched the moment of reflection in deep silence.
In Windsor, where the Queen will be buried on Monday after her funeral in Westminster Abbey, it began to rain as the crowd fell silent for a moment’s contemplation. The rain stopped as the crowd erupted in applause.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were among thousands of mourners — from locals and tourists to royalty and world leaders — to pay their respects. The President made the Sign of the Cross and placed his hand on his heart as he stood silently by the coffin with his wife and US Ambassador Jane Hartley in the ornate 900-year-old hall.
Biden then signed the official book of condolence and attended a reception at Buckingham Palace on Sunday hosted by King Charles III. He is one of 500 world leaders and royals invited to the Queen’s state funeral on Monday, along with hundreds of dignitaries, politicians, military veterans and British charity workers.
Biden called Queen Elizabeth II “decent” and “honorable” and “everything about the service” when he signed the book of condolence and said his heart was with the royal family.
“Queen Elizabeth lived her life for the people,” Jill Biden wrote in a book for spouses and ambassadors. “She served with wisdom and grace. We will never forget their warmth, kindness and the conversations we had.”
As the dignitaries poured in, the clock ticked for those seeking a place in the longest line many have ever seen to get past the Queen’s coffin. The kilometer-long queue is expected to close for new arrivals later on Sunday so anyone waiting in line now can see the coffin before Monday morning when it is taken to Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s funeral.
Family after family, thousands of people queued around the clock, braving the cool night temperatures and waiting times of up to 17 hours in a line that stretched 8 kilometers.
Lauren Wilson, 36, stood in the much shorter queue for people with mobility issues. She said she wanted to see the coffin laid out in person.
“The world is in such a strange place and then this happened. It feels more meaningful,” she said.
She worried that the pageantry surrounding Elizabeth’s death would rob the Queen’s relatives of the ability to cope with their loss.
“The family must not mourn. I find it quite heartbreaking,” she said.
The Queen’s eight grandsons, led by heir apparent Prince William, circled the coffin and stood with their heads bowed during a silent vigil on Saturday night.
Among the foreign leaders in London was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who told the BBC she was honored to represent her nation at the funeral and to witness the national outpouring of sorrow and respect for the late Queen.
“What I will take away from this period is just the beauty of the public’s response, the kindness that you see from members of the public, the patience, the camaraderie. That for me was the most moving tribute of all, the public reaction from the British people,” she said.
People across Britain will observe a nationwide minute’s silence on Sunday night to commemorate the Queen, who died on September 8 at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne. Monday has been declared a public holiday and the funeral will be televised to huge television audiences worldwide, to crowds in parks and public squares across the country.
Police officers from across the country will be on duty as part of the largest one-day police operation in London history.
Crowds also gathered near Windsor Castle on Sunday, where the Queen will be buried at a private family ceremony on Monday night.
Steve Beeson arrived with his family of three and a bouquet of flowers he had bought for the Queen.
“She’s been a constant mainstay of the reins for the country through all these really tough times, the least we can do is come and say ‘thank you,'” he said.
Camilla, the Queen consort, paid tribute to her mother-in-law in a video message, saying the monarch has “created her own role” as a “lonely woman” on a male-dominated world stage.
“I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable,” said Camilla, who is married to Charles.
Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska was among the mourners who paid their respects to the Queen’s coffin. British royal officials said Zelenska met Catherine, the Princess of Wales, at Buckingham Palace on Sunday afternoon. They did not disclose any further details. The British government has been one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters since Russia invaded in February.
Saturday night was mourning time for the grandchildren. William and Prince Harry, sons of Charles, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; the daughters of Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and Prince Edward’s two children – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
William stood at the head of the coffin, head bowed, and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, wore uniforms. The crowd slowed to a halt, edging past in silence.
“You could see they were thinking deeply about their grandmother the Queen,” said Ian Mockett, a civil engineer from Oxford in southern England. “It was nice to see them all together as grandchildren considering what has happened over the past few years.”
The state of affairs continues until early Monday morning, when the Queen’s coffin is taken on a gun wagon pulled by 142 Royal Navy seamen to nearby Westminster Abbey for the funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s death longest reigning monarch.
After Monday’s service at the Abbey, the coffin of the late Queen will be transported through the historic heart of London on the State Gun Carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor where the Queen will be buried alongside her late husband Prince Philip, who died aged 99 last year.
Sumita Tanda laid down bright red roses as a giant floral tribute bloomed near Windsor Castle.
“I feel so privileged to be a Windsor resident,” she said. “I just wanted to show my respect.”
Follow AP’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii