Security precautions are in place as mourners gather for Queen Elizabeth's funeral
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The funeral begins in less than an hour at Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth II. Foreign dignitaries have come from around the world and are filing into the church as we speak. Meanwhile, the streets of London are full, overflowing with people who have come from around the city, outside of the city, to come pay their respects to the queen. It is the culmination of 10 official days of mourning and all the pomp and circumstance and ceremony that goes along with it. Claudia, I'm going to turn to you first. Almost no one alive has ever seen this before when you think about it. I mean, the queen was on the throne for 70 years. What has it just been like for you to witness the historic ritual of this playing out over the last few days?
CLAUDIA JOSEPH: Well, I think it's amazing. I mean, the last state funeral we had was in 1965 with Winston Churchill, and most people alive don't remember that. Obviously, it's incredible if you live in London to see how life has changed over the last 10 days.
MARTIN: How so?
JOSEPH: Just - well, people are pouring into the capital. A lot of people were incredibly upset, tearful, even journalists. Just - life changed. I think that when your monarch dies, it brings back all the griefs in your life as well. So I think that is quite significant - and I think the sense of history, the sense of witnessing something that you'll probably never see again. And the ceremony of it, the people pouring into the streets - I actually queued up myself for 8 hours.
MARTIN: Did you?
JOSEPH: Yes, I wanted to - well, I met someone earlier in the day that had actually been as a child to see Winston Churchill. And I thought, I really want to do this myself...
JOSEPH: ...Because I think I'll regret it if I don't. And the atmosphere in the queue, talking to people, making friends with people, sharing food, each having loo breaks and things like that, it was - I took a book thinking I'd be bored, and I didn't even open it.
MARTIN: Its own kind of community...
JOSEPH: Yeah, it was.
MARTIN: ...In the queue as everybody marking this moment. Again, I'm here with NPR's Frank Langfitt as well. Frank, you and I were out and about this morning. I mean, there is a - there are a lot of people, and it means that there is a heavy security presence, right?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: There is. I mean, I think that it's not that easy to move around the city. What we're seeing - there are lots of barricades around, lots of police officers, very polite. But a lot of people - in some cases, people trying to move around and actually getting stuck because diplomats are moving. And so they have to lock down gates - and definitely a challenge. But - and also tube stops shut down as well because it's not easy to move. But a big day for a lot of people - a lot of people, I got to say, in the city for the last number of days since they had the queen lying in state, tons of people in the city, and hard to move at times near Westminster.
MARTIN: So we're going to bring in another voice on this exact topic, Nick Aldworth. He is a former national coordinator for counterterrorism for the U.K. Nick, thanks for being here.
NICK ALDWORTH: Good morning. You're welcome.
MARTIN: What a day when you think of all the different individuals who are needed to pull something like this off, just from a logistics security standpoint. I mean, London has had its fair share of massive events in the past - I mean, even funerals, right? I'm thinking about Princess Diana, but also the London Olympics. How comparable is the challenge today?
ALDWORTH: So I think in terms of numbers and, in some respects, complexity, this is not dissimilar to the Olympics. But where the fundamental change takes place is that the Olympics took place over three weeks. Everything was very predictable when you knew how many tickets we'd sold for every event, what time that took place, when, where and how, and also it took place across a much broader geographic location as well - you know, half the U.K. This is an Olympics compressed into 10 days and in some great part compressed into today. But I suppose, you know, if I can just give you a small personal perspective, Rachel, this for me actually is the bookmark to well over 20 years of my life in as much as the first time I saw Operation London Bridge, which was the - is the plan for today...
MARTIN: This is the code name, essentially.
ALDWORTH: ...Was well over 20 years ago.
ALDWORTH: It was - yeah.
MARTIN: For the memorial.
ALDWORTH: And it used to sit on a lever arch file in my office and physically get dusty across the course of a year. We'd dust it off once a year, check whether it's still valid or not. So, of course, what we're dealing with today is a plan that's evolved. It's evolved against the threats that we have to worry about. It's evolved against the changes in society. And actually, do you know what? Sometimes, it's even evolved in the face of changing geography where streets have changed.
MARTIN: I mean, there - on this day, we don't want to bring it up, but when you think about massive gatherings of people in spaces that are trying to be kept safe, there is a threat of terrorism, is there not?
ALDWORTH: Yep, there is. But my opinion on that is that we've probably passed the greatest point of risk. And the greatest point of risk for me was this long queue which stretched for several miles throughout London and which couldn't possibly be policed to the nearest inch. It was incredibly well planned, its route incredibly well thought out so that it stayed away from points where vehicles could perhaps engage with it. But nonetheless, my view is that that was the real weak point. What's going to happen now is everything else today is going to take place inside an area that's actually been developed over the years to be secure. Recognizing how many of these sorts of events we hold in central London, there is permanent protective infrastructure in the area that stops vehicles. And the number of police officers out there today - numbers are probably over 10,000.
ALDWORTH: You know, this is an upside-down iceberg. For once, you're going to see the bulk of what's going on rather than just the tip of it.
MARTIN: And what's the agency in charge? Is it the Metropolitan Police?
ALDWORTH: So the Metropolitan Police Service have overall responsibility for delivering the security, the crowd management and the safety of this event. But they work out of an operations room just down the road from where I'm standing at the moment. And every agency that plays a part in keeping this place safe and secure and clean and tidy, for that matter - so the street cleaners are represented in there as well - are in this large, large room with all the intelligence and information feeds you could ever hope for. And they're all tracking second by second what's going on and making sure that security is paramount, safety is paramount and then, most importantly, that the constitutional solemnity of what's going on is allowed to happen.
MARTIN: And let's just pay tribute to those folks right now because it's a hard job. And we encountered several security people this morning, and everyone was doing their best to be patient and kind and helpful. It is a huge undertaking, as you well know. Nick Aldworth, a former national coordinator for counterterrorism for the U.K., thank you so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.
ALDWORTH: You're most welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.