Queen funeral: London restauranteur likens state occasion to ‘Madame Tussauds’
“Queen Elizabeth had a huge impact on my life and attending the state funeral was nothing short of an honour I would not trade for anything”.
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Entrepreneur Raja Suleman Raza, 42, from southwest London, had the surprise of a lifetime when he received an official invitation to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
Mr Raza is a British-Pakistani restaurateur and activist who launched the charity campaign One Million Meals in March 2020, from his restaurant chain Spice Village, via GoFundMe.
The campaign was recognised with the Points of Light award in 2021 by Boris Johnson.
Mr Raza’s confidential invitation to the ceremony on Monday, September 19, at 11am at Westminster Abbey, was signed by the Earl Marshal and the Dean of the Abbey.
He said: "I felt like winning the Lotto… it was even more than that.
“Queen Elizabeth had a huge impact on my life and attending the state funeral was nothing short of an honour I would not trade for anything".
He added: "I came to the UK with £50 in my pocket some 22 years ago and sweated as a chef in a Brixton eatery and here I was going to join the most powerful leaders of the world.”
Westminster Abbey has space for around 2,000 people and hundreds of foreign royals and heads of state attended the funeral - one of the biggest diplomatic gatherings in decades.
Mr Suleman Raza said: "I spotted King Charles II; US president Joe Biden; French president Emmanuel Macron; Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau; New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern; Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro; and UK prime minister Liz Truss.”
He added: “It was such a breath-taking moment that I felt like I was standing at Madame Tussauds.
“I suddenly felt sad when I realised the Queen was missing from this auspicious gathering.”
"This was the moment when it gripped me that I won’t be able to see my favourite monarch again in my life and I said in my heart, "goodbye Your Majesty".
A handful of members of the public were invited to the state funeral who had received honours from the Queen for services to the general public during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year the entrepreneur was made an MBE on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee for his services to business and charity during the pandemic, and serves on the British Asian Trust.
He said: "I dedicate both of these honours to her late Majesty.
"I also congratulate King Charles III on his ascension to the throne. I wish His Majesty courage and perseverance in the face of this heavy, irreparable loss.”