How to Camp on The Mall (Or Die Trying)

Staking out your campsite on The Mall is serious business, y’all. Tent placement, power supply, food and beverage, weather considerations, personal hygiene.  And, if I do say so myself, I think my brother Jack and I did a brilliant job!
Here, you can see my brother Jack setting up our mini lounge chairs for our mini lounging space next to our cozy little tent.
As you can see, on our first night, we managed to secure a prime, front-row spot only yards away from Buck Palace and we were super-excited to try our new camping gear — like this two-person pop-up tent!   Inside, I have my cot set up;  Jack has his blow-up mattress.  We each have a sleeping bag, of course, along with cozy bamboo pillows. Here, Jack is setting up our mini camping chairs for our mini lounging space.  A Waxing Gibbous moon provided a brilliant backdrop, the chimes of Big Ben the perfect soundtrack. At this point, you might be asking yourself a few questions such as:  What did we bring?  How did we get it here?  Do we have a Plan B? (Hint:  ALWAYS have a Plan B.) Following is a heartfelt, firsthand account of my experience while camping on The Mall, what we did right, what we could have done better and the people we met along the way.
Holding an umbrella during a downpour while trying to operate my camera still didn’t dampen our spirits.
What We Did Right
1.  We arrived early!  If you want a good spot, you’re going to have to earn it.  This means arriving a few days before the event.  Not only will you, most likely, secure a better space, but it’ll give you valuable extra time to size up your surroundings for things like bathrooms and grocery stores. Plus, you’ll get to see a lot of things most people miss.  Like His Majesty’s Gentlemen at Arms rehearsing for the Big Day.
Arrive early enough and you’ll get to see a lot of things many people never do. Like rehearsals and His Majesty’s Gentlemen at Arms.
2.  We brought a no-frills, waterproof pop-up tent!   London being London, you should expect to get wet.  Also bring along a tarp to place under your tent, an umbrella, a raincoat and extra layers.  Not only did it rain, but it got downright cold at night.  On our last night, it rained.  A LOT. But we remained mostly clean and dry.
Be prepared for all types of weather. I brought along this cozy fleece poncho, which served as both a warm wrap during the day and a cozy blanket at night.
3.  We brought sleeping bags!   Obvious?  Probably, but don’t forget to bring along an air mattress or a cot, too.  If it does rain, it will help protect your sleep space.  Plus, you will be much more comfortable. And don’t forget a travel pillow. I also brought along an extra long fleece poncho.  It served the dual purposes of providing top-level warmth during the day and an extra blanket at night.  Trust and believe our tent was extremely cozy.
4.  We brought folding chairs!  Sure, you’ve got a place to sleep, but don’t forget you’re going to need a clean, comfortable place to sit during the day, too.  As you can see, our chairs were fairly small, but they did the job.  Remember: You’ve got to tote all this stuff home, too.
On our second night, Nick and Jeremy treated us to hot, fresh pizza.
5.  We brought plenty of snacks and water!  Water can get heavy, though, and there’s enough plastic in the world already.  So, be sure to bring a refillable water bottle. For flavor, I bought some Crystal Light Peach Tea packets, too. We also brought along different types of power bars. What we didn’t expect is that we would be located so closely to a fantastic deli, which was awesome as open flames are strictly forbidden.  In the mornings, we had freshly-squeezed orange juice and a hot breakfast, which helped to get our days off to a great start.  Lunches were artisan sandwiches and chips.  On our second night, Nick and Jeremy treated us to hot, fresh pizza. Amazing!
Above, Jeremy is pictured on the left and Nick is on the right.  Sandwiched in between is their good friend and our new acquaintance Laurence, one of London’s top cops.
6.  We made friends with our neighbors!  We met Nick and Jeremy our first, full day on The Mall and I can promise you that our experience would not have been as stellar had we not met them. Above, Jeremy is pictured on the left and Nick is on the right.  Sandwiched in between is their good friend and our new acquaintance Laurence, one of London’s top cops.  There are not enough superlatives to describe how awesome these two souls were.  Together, we really were a force of nature!  In addition to great conversation and peace of mind, we made sure each other had food, fun and comfort breaks.  It was an extra bonus that their wives, Cath and Karen, joined us on our final night, along with Nick and Cath’s son, George.
I snapped this pic on 6 May 23 at 4:51 a.m. after we packed up our gear and placed our chairs next to the barricades, forming our own, personal front row to watch all of the excitement.

7.  We brought plenty of power banks!  Phones, tablets, e-readers, camera batteries, there are a lot of things that will require charging.  So, plan accordingly.  There will be no source of power for your campsite.  Also consider what lighting you may need during the night.  We each brought a mini flashlight, as well as a small light that we could hang in our tent.

8.  We brought a durable wheeled duffle bag to transport and store our gear!  Getting your stuff to The Mall is much easier if you’re organized and efficient.  Do not bring more than you need. Additionally, you will be required to pull down your tent very, very early in the morning (maybe before daybreak) and you’ve got to have a place to store it.  Having your gear all in one place makes keeping an eye on it that much easier.

9.  We brought a ‘good’ camera!   Your cell phone probably has a decent camera, but you might want a ‘good’ camera to capture those fast-moving, action shots.  And be prepared to use it!  The first time Charles passed us, I almost missed him. Thankfully, I was able to snap a picture on my cell, but, next time, I had my Nikon on the ready.

Although your cell phone probably has a decent camera, you might want to bring a ‘good’ camera to capture those fast-moving action shots.

10.  We had a Plan B!   As soon as we arrived in London, we checked into a nearby hotel. We separated the things we needed for camping from the things we didn’t and then made our way to The Mall.  Just in case everything had gone straight to hell, we had a clean, dry place to stay.  Even if things didn’t go to hell, we had a clean, dry place to store other valuables and freshen up.

11.  We brought along extra rope!   At night, we used rope to secure our chairs and our duffle bag.  We also used a little bit to secure our tent to the barricade just in case.  Jack also brought along a Leatherman.  Brilliant!

What We Could Have Done Better

We didn’t bring enough rope!  It’s very, very important that you ‘mark’ your campsite. Because we did not anticipate how aggressive some people would become in an effort to secure their own camps, it never occurred to us to bring some type of bunting to define our space.  Thankfully, Nick and Jeremy did!   Their Union Jack flag provided the perfect makeshift fencing.  Making friends with your neighbors is extremely important, people!

Be sure and bring some type of bunting, rope or — in this case — a big flag to define your campsite.

Things to Consider

Brace yourself!  You’re going to see a lot of weird shit on The Mall.  I do not recommend going it alone.  I repeat:  I do not recommend going it alone.  Buddy up!   If you can’t find a buddy, make friends with your neighbors. You will need to go to the bathroom. You will need to grab food and water.  Without peace of mind, you will be stressed out. Speaking of peace, pack some ear plugs.  This nut spent a full afternoon ringing a giant bell while simultaneously shouting at the top of his lungs.  Some people will do absolutely anything for attention.

Some people will do anything for attention.

Pack light!   Obviously, hygiene will be very important. You may not be able to shower for a few days.  Pack a hairbrush, a toothbrush, sunscreen and a change of clothes for nighttime.  No, you can’t do laundry, but you will sleep better wearing something less restrictive. Another outstanding reason to bring a tent:  It also acts as a changing room!

Be flexible!  As the week wears on, you may be asked to reposition your camp.  Streets may close.  Barricades may shift.  Whatever you do, don’t panic!  Security at an event this large is a nightmare and communication between police, city workers and security personnel will be inconsistent and, frankly, confusing.  Don’t panic!  You’ll be much more successful if you just flow.

Be aware!  In all likelihood, there will be pickpockets and thieves operating in the area. We had our own close encounter on the second day. Once he realized we were on to him, he didn’t stay for long.  But be diligent and don’t take security for granted.  Yes, The Mall was packed with police, but they can’t possibly be expected to keep up with your personal belongings.  You can, however, expect many random tent searches.  While it might seem weird, it was actually a great way to get to know the officers around us.  At all times, we were treated with dignity and respect.  Thank you, Officers!

Be respectful!  Camping anywhere in Westminster, including The Mall, is illegal; but, on State occasions, it is completely doable.  It should go without saying, but be polite.  Treat police and security personnel with respect, as well as your fellow campers.  Personal space is a thing, y’all.  Be sure and allow some space between your campsite and your neighbor’s and keep your camp clean! As the Day Of approached, it became very important to work together to protect our front-row space we spent all week securing.  The Day Of was a madhouse. Actually, the frenzy began the Night Before the Day Of.  Late-comers were pushing and shoving, feeling very entitled to creep into our prime, front-row space.  But, because we built strong relationships with our neighbors, all of us worked together, helping to make our experience an unqualified success!

Have fun!  Once you’ve set up camp, you can relax and soak up all the celebratory vibes.  I brought a travel board game and Jack introduced me to an app called Hearts.  I also brought along a small Bluetooth speaker for music. Decorate your space.  Hang some Union Jack bunting or a flag from your home country.  After all, you’ve worked hard to get here.  So, be sure you make the most of it.

Final Thoughts

Given the opportunity, I would do it all over again in a minute!   Without question, camping out for the Coronation was one of the greatest adventures of my life!  One of the best surprises was the rehearsals.  We saw the Royal Family a lot more often than we expected, making it important to have your camera on the ready. Without my brother Jack, this adventure simply would not have been possible.  So, thank you, Jack, for agreeing to give this a try with me.  Four days and three nights gave us a front row seat to history!  And I wouldn’t trade a single, solitary minute of it.  With love from London, Sandy


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