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At some point in the future, a phone call will be placed by the private secretary of the Queen to the British Prime Minister. In this call, he will utter the phrase “London Bridge is down”, which will set off a preplanned series of events following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
As it has been over 65 years that the monarchy has changed hands in the United Kingdom, it will be something that most people in the commonwealth have never experienced.
Learn more about Operation London Bridge and the plans for the transfer of the British monarchy on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
This episode is sponsored by Audible.com.
My audiobook recommendation is Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith.
From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.
You can claim your one month trial to Audible and your 2 free audiobooks by going to audibletrial.com/EverythingEverywhere or clicking on the link in the show notes.
The passing of a monarch is a bittersweet event. On the one hand, you are mourning the loss of the previous monarch, and on the other hand, you are celebrating the ascension of the new monarch.
In the past, funerals for monarchs, especially in England, were rather unorganized affairs. You usually didn’t know when it was going to happen and you didn’t know where the monarch was going to die.
When Princess Charlotte died in 1817, many of the undertakers were supposedly drunk.
When King George IV died in 1830, it was called an “ill-managed affair”.
All of that changed with Queen Victoria. Because she lived and reigned so long, she had plenty of time to plan her funeral, which she did, over the course of 25 years.
Since then, the funerals and the transfer of authority have been tightly managed affairs, with plans and contingencies prepared years, if not decades in advance.
There are plans in place for the deaths of all senior members of the Royal Family. When the Queen mother died in 2002, the plans were called Operation Tay Bridge. Plans for the passing of Prince Philip go by Operation Forth Bridge, and the passing of Prince Charles is called Menai Bridge.
When Princess Diana died in 1997, they had no plan explicitly for her. She had been divorced, was no longer part of the Royal Family, and she was rather young. They adapted the plans for the Queen Mother for Diana’s funerals.
So, what exactly will happen when the Queen passes away? This is known as Operation London Bridge.
Things will depend on where and when the event occurs, but there are contingencies for if it should happen overseas, or in her estate in Balmoral, Windsor, or at Buckingham Palace.
The first order of business is communications. The last thing they want to have happen, is for the news to be leaked and for people to find out on television who should be told privately. They certainly do not want the tabloids to break the news.
Once the queen has been confirmed to have passed away, the Prince of Wales immediately assumes the throne. While there are things he must do, which I’ll get to later, he becomes king immediately.
The process starts with the personal secretary of the queen, who will call 10 Downing Street to contact the Prime Minister’s office via a secured phone line. Then he will convey that “London Bridge is Down”.
From here, the information will be sent to the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre who will notify the governments of the 15 countries to which the Queen was the Head of State. They will then notify the governments of the other Commonwealth countries.
The next priority is to notify the press.
All major press outlets in the UK have prepared for this day. Television stations have black outfits for their on-air presenters located at the studio. Newspapers have headlines prepared for immediate print, and stories which only require some details to be filled in for an immediate print run.
Regularly scheduled television programming on the BBC will be interrupted and shifted over to news. The normal BBC red color scheme will be changed to black. The BBC and other television networks have prepared footage ready to go including documentaries of the queen which will play over the next several days.
Radio stations will change their playlists to more somber and serious music, regardless of their format. Almost all stations have such a playlist prepared and ready to go and it would be a matter of hitting a button or inserting a tape.
Supposedly, the wording used by the BBC to make the announcement will be very similar to what was used to announce the passing of King George VI in 1952. It will begin, “It is with the greatest sorrow that we make the following announcement…”
The London Times reportedly has 11 days’ worth of coverage ready to be printed.
Official notice to the public will be given at the gates of Buckingham Palace where a footman will place a black-trimmed notice on a stand announcing the passing of the queen.
The household staff at the various palaces will place the buildings into mourning mode. Black will be draped, and flags will be flown at half staff. The royal website will also make the announcement, with the website colored black.
Depending on the time of day the news is announced, most people in the UK may be sent home from work. The stock market will be shut down as will banks and other official offices. Flags everywhere will be flown at half staff and officials will be expected to wear black armbands.
Book of condolences will be opened at embassies around the world, and it is expected that a very large crowd of people will assemble in front of Buckingham Palace with candles and flowers.
Bells will toll around the country including St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
The day after, known in the plan as D+1, several things are scheduled to take palace.
First, the body of the Queen will be taken to the throne room of Buckingham Palace where it will lie under guard if that is where she passed away. If she passes in Scotland, there may be services there before the body is taken back to Buckingham Palace.
In St. James Palace the Ascension Council will meet in the morning. The Ascension Council has one purpose: to proclaim the new monarch. The council consists of Privy Counsellors, Great Officers of State, members of the House of Lords, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, the aldermen of the City of London, high commissioners of Commonwealth realms, and other civil servants.
Here they will sign the official proclamation which will be read around the country, proclaiming the new king.
The new monarch will take an oath, and then will make his first public address to the nation as king.
Parliament, if not in session, will be convened. Here, all members of parliament will be asked to take an oath to the new monarch.
If they haven’t already, members of the royal family will assemble and pledge their loyalty to the new monarch.
After the proclamation, there will be a 41 gun salute to the new monarch in Hyde Park. The entire length of the artillery salute will take over seven minutes.
Westminster Abbey will be closed and preparation will begin for the funeral. The entire building will be cleaned, and carpets will be laid.
At the Royal Mint, they will begin the process of minting new coins and issuing new currency with the new sovereign’s image. Likewise, new postage stamps will be prepared with the likeness of the King.
Soon after, the new King will leave London traveling to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to meet with the leaders in each country and to attend services in his mother’s honor.
On D+4, the coffin will be moved to Westminster Hall where it will lie in state for four days. Here, foreign dignitaries, government officials, and members of royal houses from around the world, and the public, will pay their respects. Estimates are that half a million people will show up in-person to pay their respects.
For at least one hour, while the queen lies in state, her body will be guarded by her sons, and most probably her grandsons William and Harry. It is known as the Guard of the Princes.
During this time, military units, choirs, and others will begin preparations for the funeral which will be held at Westminster Abbey on the 9th day.
The funeral will be one of the most-watched televised events in history. Places along the route have already been assigned to news outlets, and fiber optic cable has been installed underneath the mall for where they will be set up.
Seating charts for the funeral are already set and are updated several times a year. People assigned to take part in the ceremony are likewise set, and those lists are updated periodically as well.
The service will be officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The day of the funeral will be a public holiday in the UK with most shops and businesses closed, at least in the morning.
At 9 am, Big Ben will start to toll. The hammers will be covered with leather, to mute the sound of the bell to a more somber tone. It will ring once for every year the Queen was alive.
At 11 am, the casket will arrive at Westminster Abbey, where the service will take place. Two thousand will be in attendance, and billions will be watching.
After the service, the casket will be taken to St. George’s Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castel. Here she will be buried along with all other family members, including her mother, father, and sister.
Mourning will continue for another two weeks. Each country where the Queen is the head of state has its own procedures in place for how to announce the event, and what will happen after.
At some point after the funeral, the new king will have his coronation ceremony. Elizabeth’s coronation took place 16th months after the death of her father George VI. However, she was very young.
Charles will be the oldest person ever to have a coronation ceremony, so it is possible that he will not wait as long.
It is also very possible, even probable, that he will not go by the name King Charles III. Most speculate that like his grandfather who was called Albert, he will adopt the name George as his regal name, and he will be King George VII.
At some point after that, an investiture ceremony will take place at Caernarfon Castle in Wales where William will officially become the new Prince of Wales, and the heir apparent.
The events of Operation London Bridge will come to pass at some point, although hopefully not too soon. When it does, it will be part of a tradition that has been passed down from monarch to monarch for over 1,000 years.