Bernadette Christie had had a front row seat to some of the biggest royal events of the past decade.
She’s seen Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle go to church on their wedding days, seen Queen Elizabeth drive by in a golden carriage, and met Prince William.
Now the 68-year-old from Grande Prairie, Alta., is camping out in a tent for five nights in London to ensure she has the best spot outside of Monday’s funeral.
“I want a front row seat, otherwise there’s no point in trying so hard,” she said.
On Wednesday night, Christie set up her green tent in the shadow of Buckingham Palace alongside a small group of royal observers she jokingly calls the “Diehards”.
In the coming days she wants to move her tent as close as possible to Westminster Abbey, where the Queen’s funeral will take place.
Together, campers help pitch tents, share food, take turns guarding their belongings, and immerse themselves in the atmosphere of royal weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and in this case, funerals.
Next to her small tent, Christie’s luggage contained a whole heap of Canadian flags.
Her nails are painted red and white, and she showed off the Canadian flag poncho she wears to royal events.
Christie’s first memory of the Queen was when she was seven, donning her brownie uniform to see the monarch during a royal visit to Canada.
Thereafter, she followed the royal family through the Queen’s Christmas messages over the years or joined the crowds during her visits to Canada, between which she was raising four children.
But when the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – now the Prince and Princess of Wales – took place in 2011, she decided it was time to go in person.
“I said to my husband, ‘All I want for Christmas is a plane ticket to England,'” she said in an interview on Wednesday night.
She has returned several times since then, most recently for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June. Every time she camps.
She said her favorite memories are seeing the Queen drive by in the rarely used golden state carriage and getting a good view of Middleton, Camilla, now Queen Consort, and the royal children driving by in a carriage.
“Seeing these little kids, just knowing they’re not asking to be born into it,” was a highlight, she said.
Christie says camping allows her to see things that many others don’t: nightly ceremonial rehearsals, early-morning comings and goings of the royal family, and occasional confirmations from the royals themselves. But the main reason she’s doing it is, as close as possible to be at what she sees as significant events in history.
Rather than what she sees, “it’s more what you feel,” she said. “You can feel the mood of the people.”
“You must be here”
Fellow camper Maria Scott, from Newcastle in northern England, said her passion for the royal family began with Diana, the late Princess of Wales.
“She had an aura and she really connected to people like me,” she said. “She’s been through things that we’ve been through.”
Scott has since attempted to be present at key milestones in the lives of Diana’s children, Prince William and Harry. She camped at their weddings and at the births and christenings of Prince William’s three children.
“Seeing it on TV doesn’t do it justice,” she said. “You have to be here.”
Christie says she met many friendly people who stopped to offer food, help with camping, or just to chat. She and the other campers have also become fast friends, she said.
That’s not to say it’s not tough. London’s humid weather means she often gets soaked. And rehearsals for the midnight parade, while interesting, aren’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Tents must also be dismantled early in the morning by official order.
On Thursday afternoon, Christie could be seen sleeping soundly under her Canadian flag on the ground, oblivious to the hundreds of people who streamed by just yards away.
“It breaks your back, you get freezing, you get wet,” she had said the night before. “But it’s fun.”
Christie plans to attend the coronation of King Charles III. to return to England but she believes this may be the last time. However, she admitted she had said that before, after a particularly cold and wet spell at the Queen’s Jubilee.
Shortly thereafter, she said, she went out and bought the new tent she now sleeps in.