For foreign emperors, monarchs and leaders at the funeral, the Queen’s death is the great leveller

Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Japan's Empress Masako arrive to take their seats

Never have so many foreign dignitaries and world leaders been gathered together for a single event at such short notice.

Leaders were here to represent their governments and peoples officially.

But also for many of them this was personal. They were here to mourn one of their own.

There was an extraordinary moment before the Queen’s funeral.

While broadcasters rightly focused on Britain’s Royal Family being driven to Westminster, royals from around the world were being ushered into Westminster Abbey en masse.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito led a gaggle of kings and queens, grand dukes and crown princes whisked in through the north door.

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Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Japan's Empress Masako arrive to take their seats
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Japan’s Empress Masako arrive to take their seats

Each one would be entitled to a full state visit in their own right in ordinary times but here they were arriving as just another group of guests content to discard the distinctions of rank and status to be bussed in to take their place among many others.

At this funeral, death has indeed been the great leveller.

Earlier we had watched heads of states and governments, prime ministers and diplomats also pour out of coaches and find their places inside the abbey.

The perils of placement, who to sit where and next to whom, were addressed through strict protocol.

Joe Biden may be the head of a superpower but he was 14 rows back in a block of foreign dignitaries 500 strong occupying the abbey’s south transept.

Royals were in the front rows, followed by governors general of the realms, those countries that retain the monarch as head of state, and commonwealth leaders behind them.

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Notable people at Queen’s funeral

The Queen has been a counsel to generations of leaders around the world valued for her wisdom and experience drawn from decades of rule and the many presidents and prime ministers she has known.

And foreign dignitaries were here to witness history as much as the tens of thousands of ordinary people who lined the streets of London and the route to Windsor.

The Queen was simply the most famous person in the world and this has been the biggest international event of this century.

Read more:
In pictures: Royals and foreign dignitaries together for Queen’s funeral

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Convening such a concentration of the powerful and distinguished has taken enormous effort. British diplomats have worked round the clock in a command centre nicknamed the hanger.

One state visit normally takes months to plan. This has been many rolled into one, organised in just over a week.

An attendant help Joe Biden find his seat, as dignitaries including Emmanuel Macron (left), looks on in contemplation
An attendant helps Joe Biden find his seat, as dignitaries including Emmanuel Macron (left), look on in contemplation

Logistics have been a challenge. The transportation issue was solved with buses. World leaders dropped off in Chelsea and put on coaches.

Only the US president appears to have balked or been allowed an exemption at least. Joe Biden came in Cadillac One in a scaled-down motorcade.

Navigating a diplomatic minefield has taken care and finesse, avoiding unfortunate encounters, and regrettable juxtapositions.

The former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, is estranged from his son for instance. King Felipe is reportedly unhappy they were both invited. And their British hosts will have been keen to avoid leaders of rival nations bumping into each other.

The funeral has not been without diplomatic peril but has brought opportunity too. Britain has been seen at its best. Nobody does pomp and ceremony better.

142 Naval Ratings pulling the State Gun Carriage of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II
The pomp and ceremony on display is an exercise in showing Britain at its best

Politics is officially off the agenda but in numerous meetings and what diplomats call “pull-asides”, ministers and officials will have been taking advantage of having so many allies and friends in one place.

Diplomacy is all about soft power. No one practised it better than the Queen.

No doubt she would have approved.

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