Earlier this year, The Guardian published an in-depth report on what, exactly, will occur when the Queen of England dies. “The idea is for nothing to be unforeseen,” the article reads. The top-secret plans for the death of a royal are only discussed using code names — Elizabeth’s is Operation London Bridge; her father’s was “Hyde Park Corner.”
When the time comes, the Queen’s private secretary will set off the full schematic of Operation London Bridge, beginning with the utterance of the phrase: “London Bridge is down.”
Some aspects, like who will hear of the Queen’s death first, have already been decided. But the country’s reaction to losing a sovereign this long-lasting? That’s something no plan can foresee. Here’s a snippet of the highly ritualized events that will occur after Queen Elizabeth, who is 91 years old now, passes on.
The Queen’s body has to be transported back to Buckingham Palace, if she’s not there already. If the Queen passes away while abroad, then a Royal jet will take off with a special royal coffin on board, kept ready by the royal undertakers, Leverton & Sons, in case of emergency. The transportation process will be made far more complicated if the Queen dies at Balmoral, the palace in Scotland where she spends a quarter of the year. In that case, an entire Scottish ritual will be performed at Holyroodhouse, the royal residence in Edinburgh. Then, her coffin will travel down the island’s east coast on the Royal Train. Crowds would gather along the tracks to wave goodbye, and throw flowers. In fact, the mess would be so great that another train would follow with the express purpose of clearing debris.
No matter what, her body will reach the same initial resting place: Buckingham Palace’s throne room.
This is what will happen in the moments immediately following her death. First of all, Charles will instantly become king, and his siblings will kiss his hands (really). Then, news of Elizabeth’s death will travel rapidly through official channels. The Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, will call the prime minister. Next, the phrase “London Bridge is down” will be uttered by civil servants down secure lines, and soon, the 15 countries in which the Queen is head of state, and the 36 nations in the Commonwealth, will learn the news, too. After finding out, government officials in the U.K. will wrap their left arms with black armbands of mourning. The two thrones found in the House of Lords will be removed, and replaced with cushion with an outline of a crown.
Though rumors may have already spread, civilians will get official confirmation of the Queen’s death through a physical notice pinned to the gates of the palace, and an alert from the Press Association. The palace website will transform into a single block of text on a dark, somber background. The BBC will also ring the alarm system, which had been installed during the Cold War era and was intended to warn people of incoming attacks. Then, the news coverage will start.
Networks already know exactly what they’re going to say. All other coverage will stop and turn to the news of the Queen. Newsreaders will don black suits and ties. Television viewers and listeners to Radio4 and 5 will hear the sentence, “This is the BBC from London,” and know some momentous news was about to come. Listeners to non-news stations will also hear the news. Before switching to a news station, radio DJs on music stations will deploy their special “Mood 1” track, composed of “songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.”
The reporting procedure has already been established and rehearsed. “I have got in front of me an instruction book a couple of inches thick. Everything in there is planned. Everyone knows what to do,” one TV producer told the author of the article. The networks have also developed coverage for the entire official mourning period.
Something you won’t see on TV? Comedies and biting political satires. In the days following the Queen’s death, entertainment programming will be more sensitive.
An entire ten days of official mourning is sketched out. The day of the Queen’s death is known as D-Day. On that day, flags will be taken down, Parliament will gather, dignitaries and family members will travel to London, and 10,000 tickets for invited guests to the official proclamation of the king will be printed.
On D+1, the day after the Queen dies, the flags will be raised and Charles will be declared King Charles III in a highly ritualized ceremony. Some highlights include a 41-gun salute (seven minutes’ worth of artillery fire), trumpeting, and a four-country tour. Camilla is likely to be announced as the Queen.
On D+4, the Queen’s coffin will move to Westminster Hall in a massive military parade. The Queen will rest in Westminster for four full days, where over half a million people are expected pay their respects. In order to accommodate the crowd, the Abbey will be open to visitation for 23 hours a day, and portable toilets and water stations have been secured.
The country will go on pause the day of her funeral. The Queen’s funeral will take place on Day+9, and will be a national day of mourning. The stock market will remain closed, as will many shops. Soccer stadiums will fill with mourners who aren’t on the 2,000-person funeral guest list.
Before the funeral begins at 11 am, each of the jewels on Elizabeth’s coffin will be polished. At 11, the country will go silent. Literally. Train announcements will cease. Buses will stop on the side of the road, and drivers will stand outside their vehicles. After the funeral concludes, the coffin will travel, by carriage, back to the Windsor Castle, where the Queen will reach her final resting place in the royal vault.
The funeral will have symbolic significance. When Elizabeth dies, a link to the country’s former empire will also be snuffed out. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes,” one historian, who chose to remain anonymous, told the author of the Guardian article.