LONDON — Flowers were laid, the Union Jack flew at half-staff and in the dappled sunshine outside London’s Buckingham Palace, they gathered to pay their respects to Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, who died early Friday.
As news of his death spread, more arrived on foot and by bicycle, the mood somber as some read the royal notice on the palace railings announcing his death.
“I feel so sad for the queen, to lose someone when you’ve been together for so long,” said Emma Bedford, 42, who had come to lay flowers along with her daughter Evie, 5. “He stuck by her side through thick and thin. Relationships go through ups and downs, but he was really a rock for her.”
Others echoed this view.
“We always look at the queen and think she’s so strong, but this was a big part of her life,” said Hafsa Sharif, 29, adding that she had “taken a moment” to remember Philip.
Caroline Sharma, 57, also noted that the Duke of Edinburgh had played second fiddle to his wife at a time when it was unusual for a woman to be the more prominent member of a couple.
“It must have been difficult for a man in the 1950s,” she said.
After their marriage in 1947, Philip spent more than 70 years supporting the queen in public and private, and over the years she acknowledged how important their relationship was to her, calling him her “strength and stay” in a speech on their 50th wedding anniversary .
Philip also made clear where his loyalty lay in a 2011 interview with the British broadcaster ITV when he explained why he gave up his active naval career. “Being married to the queen, it seemed to me, my first duty was to serve her in the best way I could,” he said.
Their decadeslong commitment to one another was praised by Cindy Tallefson, an educator originally from Colorado who currently lives in London, as she paid her respects.
“Being an American, it’s a bit different, but you know what, I just got teary-eyed. It’s really sad,” Tallefson, 62, said.
Others said Philip had humanized the royal family with his sense of fun and jokes.
“He seemed to be a witty face of the monarchy,” said John Coverdale, 30, who had cycled from West London on his lunch break to witness the historic moment. “The monarchy as an institution is quite formal, but even within that he was able to share a joke with people,” he added.
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There was no mention by those outside Buckingham Palace on Friday of his more controversial comments, some of which have been deemed racist or insensitive and at times attracted unwanted attention to the royal family.
Instead, people chose to focus on his mischievous personality, while others pointed out that his death reminded people that members of the royal family are humans too.
Referring to the fact that Prince Harry would not have been able to say goodbye to his grandfather in person, Tallefson said that during the Covid-19 pandemic “families all over the world have had to say goodbye to loved ones from long distance, and now the royal family is just like everyone else.”
The cause of Philip’s death was not shared, but in February he was admitted to a London hospital, and last month Buckingham Palace announced he had undergone a successful medical procedure on a heart condition. He later returned to Windsor Castle, around 30 miles west of London.
Back at Buckingham Palace, several people noted Friday that his death came at a particularly difficult time not only for Britain but for the world, as many people across the globe mourn loved ones who have died from the coronavirus.
“I think this is going to be a focal point for people who have lost people and suffered,” said Elizabeth Holmes, 54, a retired teacher. “They’ll look at this almost as catharsis for their own grief.”
Saphora Smith is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital.