LONDON / The Telegraph / News / April 29, 2011
If you thought you were excited about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, meet the ardent royalists already queueing for a prime spot outside Westminster Abbey
Click to see video: Campers pitch up for Royal Wedding
Fans of circuses should make haste for the small patch of pavement opposite Westminster Abbey where royal wedding fever is cranking up a gear for the final phase. Yesterday, in the glorious spring sunshine, hundreds of tourists milled around, taking pictures of press photographers taking pictures of them.
A lorry unloaded crash barriers. Minor adjustments were made to the scaffolding of the giant press pen, a babbling Babel of cameras and journalists. Back on the ground, an English reporter with a cut-glass accent looked into the lens of a Fox News camera and told his American viewers about people sleeping on the “rock-hard sidewalks”.
For now, at least, the hardy pavement-sleepers are the main focus of the world’s media. John Loughrey, a 56-year-old chef from Wandsworth, London, was the first to arrive, at 5pm on Monday. He has since appeared in newspapers from Brazil to Australia.
By yesterday lunchtime, there were several dozen happy campers, a delightful mix of ardent royalists, eccentrics, Americans, first-timers, families and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Camilla.
Gwen Murray, aged 76, camps outside Westminster Abbey
ahead of the Royal Wedding
Sheree Zielke, a 56-year-old novelist from Edmonton, Canada, had travelled the furthest – 4,221.18 miles, according to the “fact sheet” leaning against the railings next to her. “I arrived on Monday and did my reconnaissance on Tuesday,” she says. “I am a crazy Canadian and I have no tent.”
Three generations of the Richards family, from Attleborough in Norfolk, have come better prepared, packing two tents, a campus stove and a guitar. Into those two tents, however, they are cramming five children under the age of 17, a mother and a 76-year-old grandmother.
“We all sleep on top of each other to keep warm,” laughs Darcie Richards, 15. “It’s cold and noisy at night, but it’s great fun. Our friends think we’re a bit mad when they see us on television, but we love it. We came along to support our grandmother"– who seems to have disappeared to find a lavatory.
The search for suitable facilities – and not losing your prime spot in the process – is something of a theme among the campers. Ms Zielke has made friends with her neighbour, Donna Warner, 56, from Connecticut, and asked her to reserve her patch of pavement whenever nature calls. Mr Loughrey has taken rather more extreme measures. “I haven’t drunk any water or been to the lavatory for two days,” he confides.
'Super-fan' John Loughrey was the first to camp out outside Westminster Abbey
Mr Loughrey, who camped outside the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, painting the names “Diana” and “Dodi” on his face, is a particularly ardent royalist. “William and Kate are like two swans who have been slowly gliding down the river towards each other,” he enthuses, wearing a tea-towel of the Royal couple as a sarong. He is also carrying a teddy bear of Prince William in military dress and a replica of the engagement ring, apparently given to him by a “mysterious man in a suit”.
He adds: “Diana would have loved Kate. Her spirit will be present on the balcony, giving them all hugs.”
Not everyone is such a die-hard enthusiast. For Jennifer Freeman, 52, and her daughter Gemma, 26, this is their first royal outing. “My husband’s not interested, neither is Gemma’s boyfriend, and my son has fled the country for the Maldives,” says Mrs Freeman. “But I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was there for the wedding of the future king.”
Sitting a few metres closer to the Abbey are an endearing couple who would never dream of going on holiday during a royal wedding. Terry Hutt, 76, a retired carpenter from Whaddon, Cambridgeshire, first caught the bug when he was four and met the Queen Mother during the Blitz. In 1990 he met Jennifer Hawkins, 61, a nurse from Worthing, West Sussex, who was camped outside Clarence House for the Queen Mother’s birthday. They have been attending royal events together ever since, despite being happily married to other people.
“We’re good company,” says Mrs Hawkins. “I make sure he’s warm.”
Although apparently possessing only half a tent between them she is unconcerned by the distinctly damp forecast for Friday. “I have a poncho,” she says. “And at least it’s not minus two as it was for the Queen Mother’s funeral. I had to put on all my clothes and looked like a bear.”
The spot of rain might give Mr Loughrey some welcome fluids – and perhaps even persuade the others that, however good their view, they’ll see a lot more on television.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2011