LONDON – Bernadette Christie has had a front-row view of some of the biggest royal events of the last decade.
She has seen Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle walk into the church on their wedding days, watched Queen Elizabeth pass by in a golden carriage and met Prince William. Now, the 68-year-old from Grande Prairie, Alta., is camping in a tent for five nights in London to ensure she has the best spot outside Monday’s funeral.
“I want a front-row seat, or else there’s no point in putting all this effort in,” she said.
On Wednesday night, Christie was setting up her green tent in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, alongside a small group of fellow royal watchers she jokingly calls the “diehards.” In the coming days, she plans to move her tent as close as possible to Westminster Abbey, where the queen’s funeral will take place.
Together, the campers help each other pitch tents, share food, take turns guarding each other’s things and soak in the atmosphere of royal weddings, birthdays, jubilees and, in this case, funerals. In addition to her small tent, Christie’s luggage contained a whole bunch of Canadian flags. Her nails are painted red and white, and she showed off the Canadian flag poncho that she sports at royal events.
Christie’s first memory of the queen was when she dressed up in her Brownie uniform at age seven to see the monarch during a royal visit to Canada. After that, she followed the Royal Family over the years through the queen’s Christmas messages, or joining the crowds during their Canadian visits, in between raising four children.
But when the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton — now Prince and Princess of Wales — came around in 2011, she decided it was time to go in person.
“I said to my husband: ‘All I want for Christmas is an airline ticket to England,”‘ she said in an interview Wednesday night.
Since then, she has returned several times, most recently for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June. Each time, she camps.
She said her favourite memories include getting to see the queen pass by in the rarely used gold state coach, and having a good view of Middleton, Camilla, now Queen Consort, and the royal children passing by in a coach.
“Seeing those little kids, just knowing that they don’t ask to be born into it,” was a highlight, she said.
Christie says camping allows her to see things that many others don’t: late night ceremony rehearsals, early morning comings-and-goings of the Royal Family, and occasional acknowledgment from the royals themselves. But the main reason she does it is to be as close as possible to what she sees as history’s momentous events.
Rather than what she gets to see, “it’s more what you get to feel,” she said. “You feel the mood of people.”
Fellow camper Maria Scott, from Newcastle in northern England, said her passion for the Royal Family began with Diana, the late Princess of Wales.
“There was an aura about her and she really connected with people like me,” she said. “She was going through things we were going through.”
Scott has since tried to be present for the major milestones in the lives of Diana’s children, Princes William and Harry. She camped out at their weddings and for the births and baptisms of Prince William’s three children.
“Seeing it on TV doesn’t do it justice,” she said. “You have to be here.”
Christie says she has met many friendly people who stop to offer food or help with tents, or simply to have a chat. She and the other campers have also become fast friends, she said.
That’s not to say it isn’t tough. London’s damp weather means she gets soaked — often. And midnight parade rehearsals, while interesting, aren’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep. Tents also have to be taken down early in the morning on the order of authorities.
On Thursday afternoon, Christie could be seen fast asleep on the ground beneath her Canadian flag, oblivious to the hundreds of people streaming by only a few feet away.
“It’s back-breaking, you get freezing cold, you get wet,” she had said the night before. “But it’s fun.”
Christie plans to return to England for King Charles III’s coronation, but she thinks that might be the last time. However, she admitted she has said that before, after a particularly cold and damp time at the Queen’s jubilee. Soon after, she said, she went out and bought the new tent she’s sleeping in now.