As well as the heads of state and dignitaries attending the Queen’s funeral on Monday, almost 200 unsung heroes have been invited to pay their respects.
The 183 members of the public were chosen because of their extraordinary contributions in areas such as volunteering in communities, the Covid-19 pandemic response, charity work and those in healthcare, education and the public sector.
i spoke to some of the everyday heroes going to the historic occasion to say their goodbyes to the Queen about why it means so much to them.
‘The Queen told me my moustache didn’t suit me – I feel sad I won’t get to meet her again’
Lifeboat volunteer Guy Addington has helped save 13 lives as a member of the RNLI and had the honour of meeting the Queen around 12 years ago when she told him a moustache he had grown as part of a fundraising venture “didn’t suit him at all.”
Mr Addington, 45, who lives in Margate, told i he remembers the royal meeting vividly and is saddened he won’t get to meet Her Majesty again after he received the MBE accolade in her Birthday Honours in June.
“I felt very nervous about meeting the Queen when she visited our lifeboat centre as patron of the RNLI,” he said. “But as soon as the interaction began, everyone felt immediately at ease as she had the knack of making you feel comfortable.
“It was embarrassing as at the time, I had a pretty horrible moustache I had grown to fundraise for Movember.
“The Queen commented on the fact it didn’t suit me at all. I told her: ‘I know, I’m embarrassed’ and my wife agreed with the Queen.
“If I had the opportunity again, I probably would have shaved, but it’s a funny story to tell.”
Mr Addington, who has been a volunteer since the age of 17 and also has a full-time role with the RNLI as a water safety lead, says he felt total disbelief when he discovered he had been awarded an MBE this year.
“I feel mixed emotions about it now as it is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me,” said the married father-of-two. “But it is now tinged with sadness as I was in the last cohort of people to be honoured by Her Majesty and it is sad that I won’t get to meet her again.”
As a lifeboat volunteer, Mr Addington has been involved with rescue missions including when children have swam out too far and been caught by tidal currents and saving non-swimmers in a homemade kayak clinging on to a dry bag in the water during a storm.
“I can’t believe I’ve been invited to the Queen’s funeral,” he said. “It feels very surreal and I feel honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to reflect and say goodbye at this monumental moment in our history.”
‘The Queen championed the joys of dog ownership and highlighted the great difference that people who adopt dogs can make’
The Queen was arguably the world’s most famous dog owner and she had been a patron of Dog’s Trust since 1990.
Owen Sharp, chief executive of the charity, told i the Queen’s backing did an enormous amount to highlight the rescue dogs in their care and he feels privileged and honoured to attend her funeral.
“The Queen was the country’s, if not the world’s, most famous dog owner and having someone in the role of patron who was so passionate about dogs meant a great deal to us,” he said.
“The Queen was most famous for having corgis, but actually, she was an owner of many dogs and lots of different breeds across her life and they were always a big part of her life.
“I feel honoured to be attending her funeral and being able to pay the respects on behalf of everyone at Dog’s Trust, all our volunteers and the many thousands of people who have adopted dogs from us over all of these years.”
Mr Sharp, who has a rescue dog from Dog’s Trust himself, a Whippet cross called Lexi, says the charity celebrates the bond between humans and dogs – and he believes no one articulated that better than the Queen.
“We believe that humans have the ability to make dogs’ lives better and dogs have the ability to make humans lives better,” he said. “Her Majesty was a great example of this and it clearly brought her a lot of joy to be a dog owner.
“When she visited our centres, it wasn’t just about meeting the people for her, it was about meeting the dogs and celebrating what we do as an organisation.
“The Queen championed the joys of dog ownership and highlighted the great difference that people who adopt dogs can make and I want to pay my respects on behalf of that big community.”
‘I was speechless to be invited to the funeral – I even thought it was a hoax’
Lesley Garven, manager of the Blind Veterans UK centre in Brighton, was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours for her services to veterans over the past decade and, in particular, for her work leading the centre, which has 30 permanent residents, throughout the pandemic.
She told i working for a “can do” charity like Blind Veterans UK is inspiring every day and a pleasure, so she was stunned when she was awarded an MBE for it.
“We are able to give blind veterans phenomenal experiences,” she said. “We have had one of our veterans breaking land speed records on a motorbike and another older veteran going along the longest zip wire in Wales. It is a very positive can-do charity and if the veterans want to do something, we’ll help them get there.”
She says the pandemic was a difficult time and she focused on creating a safe environment for their visually-impaired residents.
“I feel the MBE is a recognition of not just me, but everyone’s input over that time,” she said. “It was so unexpected when this beautiful cream envelope landed on the doorstep saying I was being awarded an MBE. I was absolutely stunned.”
Ms Garven received a telephone call inviting her to the Queen’s funeral and after not hearing anything for a few days after, she began worrying it was a hoax. But she then received an official email explaining she would get further instructions by special delivery and she knew it was true.
Despite spraining her foot about a week ago, she says she will “hobble along” in suitable footwear as she says she would not miss this momentous occasion for anything.
“I have been watching the television coverage and have been welling up, so I know actually being there on Monday will be very emotional,” she said. “It is a real honour and I am absolutely thrilled to be invited.
“The Queen has been a phenomenal mainstay and has always been incredibly diplomatic and dignified and represented herself so well.
“She always steered the country well in times of trouble, but also in celebration. She is going to be very missed.”