Queen Elizabeth II is dead, and the UK has become an objectively weirder place to live. Between the sex toy brands and arms manufacturers lining up to wish her goodbye, the closure of bike racks and cancellations of children’s fun runs and weather forecasts “as a mark of respect” and the BBC correspondent begging people to stop leaving marmalade sandwiches and Paddington Bear toys outside Buckingham Palace – it’s safe to say that the last 72 hours have shown that nobody has any idea how you go about mourning the death of the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
VICE photographer Chris Bethell spent the weekend in London photographing the surreality of a city currently playing a starring role in the psychodrama of a post-Queen United Kingdom (or its season finale, depending on who you ask) – including the official proclamation of King Charles III at St James’s Palace on Saturday.
Crowds of people gathered along the streets of Pall Mall hoping to catch a glimpse of the new monarch, but only grew increasingly tired and bored as the king opted for a different route. Others began drifting towards Buckingham Palace, where chaos broke out as people began scaling the walls leading up to the Victoria Memorial.
“People were encouraging pensioners to climb over, passing over their children and dogs - even prams – carrying bouquets of flowers,” Bethell tells VICE. “It weirdly looked reminiscent of people scaling the Berlin Wall.” Police attempted to intervene in individual cases, but most managed to haul themselves up and over, leaving flowers wherever they could in the memorial garden and in holes in the walls and fences.
The important thing to note here, obviously, is that Charles and his queen consort Camilla were probably nowhere near Buckingham Palace at the time.
“I’ve photographed a lot of royal events and there seemed like quite a big shift in attendance – usually I’d say it’s about 60 percent royalists, 10 percent general interested public and 30 percent tourists,” Bethell adds. “I’d say that this felt like it was maybe 30 percent royalists, 20 percent tourists and 50 percent the general public losing their minds.”
With a week of official mourning in the works, leading up to next Monday’s holiday (and drug dealers already offering discounts on party drugs “in honour of the Queen”), here’s to seven more days of chaos.