Razia Hadait was one of the members of public who were fortunate enough to be invited to Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, which took place on Monday 19th September. She is a Muslim female campaigner from Birmingham, and also a member of Muslim Women’s Network UK. Ms Hadait was chosen because she was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours earlier this year in recognition of her campaigning work in Birmingham where she has been helping local communities for more than 20 years. She also supports families to navigate the criminal justice system through Himaya Haven, which she founded several years ago.
When Ms Hadait did not receive the formal invitation through the post by mid-week she began to wonder whether the phone call had been a hoax.
Ms Hadait received a phone call from the Cabinet Office a couple of days after the announcement of the Queen’s death. She was shocked when she was asked if she would be interested in attending the royal state funeral: “I said of course I would, why would I refuse that? I had celebrated my birthday the day before, which made the getting the call even more special, but it took a few days for it to sink in.” However, when Ms Hadait did not receive the formal invitation through the post by mid-week she began wonder whether the phone call had been a hoax. As she had correspondence from the Cabinet Office related to her MBE, she contacted them to check. When they confirmed the invitation was real, she felt relieved but then began to feel anxious and nervous.
Ms Hadait bought herself a new black dress and a black hat. The official invitation had also arrived on the Saturday but she started worrying about something going wrong on the day such as being late or not being let in because the paperwork was incorrect: “I stayed in a hotel and couldn’t sleep and got up at 5am and got ready and set off early. The taxi dropped me off near as possible then I had to walk several minutes until I reached Victoria Gardens where the police carried out security checks. I reached Westminster Abbey at around 7am even though the doors were not going to be open until 8am.”
I was so close - her coffin was just a few feet away as it went past me and to see the royal family up so close…. “They looked sad particularly King Charles and Prince Harry both had tears in their eyes.
Ms Hadait has no regrets about getting there early because a small queue had already started to form and once inside she was able to choose a front row seat giving her the best view. Although the members of the public had been allocated a specific block she explained that the seating was on a first come first serve basis. She was also happy to see the members of public were also being given seats with good views: “I was not sure what to expect. It was nice to find that we were not shoved in the back somewhere and that we were also given respect and dignity in the seating arrangements.”
Ms Hadait was one of 2000 guests who attended the funeral, which also included 500 dignitaries representing around 200 countries. The coming together of so many world leaders under one roof on this scale may not to be witnessed again in our lifetime. Ms Hadait says she feels honoured and privileged to be part of such a momentous and historical moment: “It feels like a dream still that I was a part of the occasion to say farewell to the Queen who was such a huge and respected public figure globally. I was so close - her coffin was just a few feet away as it went past me and to see the royal family up so close. I just can’t explain the feeling.” When the royal family walked past she also made some observations: “They looked to sad particularly King Charles and Prince Harry both had tears in their eyes. I was also really impressed with Prince George and Princess Charlotte. They were so well behaved considering their young age - having to be silent for a long period of time and not being able to move around.” She was also impressed by the new king adding: “King Charles looked very ‘king like’ in his uniform. He also did a good job on his mum’s funeral.”
Being in the front row meant Ms Hadait was able to also see world leaders walk right past her although she admits to not recognising them all. “I saw the current and former British Prime Ministers and the US President Biden. There were so many others I can’t remember them all but Jacinda Arden stood out for me because she looked at members of the public, acknowledged them and smiled at them, which was nice.” The timing was spot on. It was extraordinary and perfect event.”
Ms Hadait will be catching up on recordings of the funeral to see the parts of the state funeral she had missed because she was inside Westminster Abbey. She is also looking forward to sharing her experience of the day with friends and family including relatives in Pakistan. Summing up her thoughts of the day she says: “I never imagined in my life that I would ever be in this position. Although I was excited to be there, it was an emotional moment – one that I will never forget.”
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