The funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh will be “a big national moment”, according to the mayor of the royal borough where it is being held, who is urging well-wishers to stay away.
John Story, mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead, described Saturday’s funeral as “a great honour” for the district but pointed out it will be taking place behind the walls of Windsor Castle because of Covid-19 concerns.
He told the PA news agency: “It is a very difficult time for people and people have very strong feelings, but we have to ask everyone to put theirs and the health and safety of others at the top of their list of priorities and not come into Windsor.
“The whole of the funeral, including the ceremonial procession, is taking place inside the castle walls. Normally you would expect this to take place along the Long Walk and through Windsor but this year it cannot happen.
“I hope, at the end of the day, that people will regard it as having been a very respectful day and a very safe one.
“It will be a very sad day for us all. I think it will be quite an emotional day and it will be a big national moment, because he has been such a large part of our lives for a very long time indeed.”
Mr Story said that if anyone comes to Windsor “there will be nothing to see” and they should instead comply with official advice not to gather in large groups in public places.
He added it is “just a sign of our times” and an “odd” part of his job that he is now telling people to stay away and watch the event at home when he would usually be encouraging them to visit.
The royal borough has close links with Philip, who once described Windsor as his “home” and Buckingham Palace as “the office”, according to Mr Story.
He would not go into detail about what contingency plans are in place if people arrive but said “the officers on the day will take whatever operational decisions which are required”.
He added: “It is a really serious message that everyone stays away.”
Philip’s grandson the Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle were married in a ceremony at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
Months later the same venue hosted the wedding of another of Philip’s grandchildren, Princess Eugenie, to Jack Brooksbank.
It will also host Philip’s funeral.
Mr Story said its recent history of big set-piece royal events has helped with the funeral planning as there are so many organisations, including the police and partner groups, involved in pulling it all together.
Philip’s links with the royal borough come not only because of Windsor Castle but also from the Prince Philip Trust Fund, set up in 1977 to benefit individuals and organisations in the community.
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said it is understood that people will want to pay their respects during this time of national mourning, but added: “We would ask that the public respect the royal household’s wishes and the Government advice by not visiting royal residences or gathering in public, in order to protect each other and reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
“Additional officers will be patrolling Windsor town centre along with the surrounding area to help provide reassurance and keep local residents, businesses and people safe.”
Mourners are asked to pay their respects in an online book of condolence set up by the royal household or by making a donation to a charity of their choice, rather than by laying floral tributes.