‘A lot of very sullen faces,’ said a reporter noted on twitter.
It was 12:21 p.m. in London.
Queen Elizabeth II had been the British monarch since 1952 (her coronation was delayed until 1953). She had seen Britain through turbulent years, with a type of token leadership that offered stability and comfort to many. But she was also 96 years old. In recent years, his public appearances had become fewer and fewer. Her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, died in 2021. He was 99.
For years there have been accounts of secret plans prepared by the Royal Family, the British Government and the public broadcaster, the BBC, on how to announce the Queen’s death to the people. The leakers had described strict formal procedures as ‘Operation London Bridge’, with the BBC holding dress rehearsals every six months.
But the last time a British monarch died was 70 years ago. Many things have changed since then.
Hours before the official announcement of the Queen’s death, fake accounts were sharing fabricated news of the death. A BBC presenter shared the news of the Queen’s death, before deleting the tweet and posting a strangely worded correction.
According to documents published last year by Politico, the day of the Queen’s death would be called “D-Day”. Scenes in Parliament on Thursday suggested D-Day could be here, although there were certainly other possibilities.
At 12:34 p.m. London time, the British Royal Family’s Twitter account shared a statement from Buckingham Palace. It contained 29 words: “Following a further assessment this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned about Her Majesty’s health and have recommended that she remain under medical supervision.”
“The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral,” the statement continued, referring to the monarch’s summer residence in Scotland.
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Speculation abounded. The BBC website launched a live blog; other outlets soon followed. A 2017 article published by the Guardian describing the London Bridge operation was widely shared on Twitter. The lengthy article dealt with many arcane actions the BBC would take, but also the psychological weight the Queen’s death would have.
“The Queen is Britain’s last living link to our former greatness – the nation’s identity, its problematic self-esteem – which is still defined by our victory in World War II,” the author wrote. British Sam Knight.
At 1:48 p.m. London time, the BBC had suspended regular programming. Huw Edwards, a veteran broadcaster, was on screen wearing a dark black suit and black tie. The chyron simply read: “Health of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.”
The royal family rushed to be at his side. Flight tracking websites showed unusual trips to Aberdeen – the nearest airport to Balmoral – from Royal Air Force bases in other parts of Britain.
On Twitter, fake accounts saying the Queen was dead were retweeted by many others. It has happened before. In 2016, a fake BBC account spread the soon-to-viral news that the Queen had died, before she was suspended by Twitter. The previous year, a real BBC reporter sent a tweet that read “Queen Elizabeth [sic] is dead.” The tweet was quickly deleted; the BBC released a statement suggesting the tweet was sent during a “technical rehearsal for an obituary”.
This time it didn’t feel like a rehearsal.
At 3.07pm London time, BBC presenter Yalda Hakim tweeted “BREAKING: Queen Elizabeth has died aged 96, Buckingham Palace has announced.”
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The tweet was quickly deleted and replaced with a correction. “I tweeted that there was an announcement regarding the Queen’s death. That was incorrect, there was no announcement so I deleted the tweet,” Hakim wrote at 3:19 p.m. .
As the hours pass, more and more members of the royal family arrive at Balmoral. Prince William, the Queen’s grandson, was pictured driving a Range Rover containing his sons Andrew and Edward and Edward’s wife Sophie.
In the past, some accounts of the London Bridge operation had suggested the news would not be announced in the evening, leading some reporters to suggest that no announcement would be made until the morning. But times are changing.
At 6.41pm London time, more than six hours after the whispers began, the Royal Family’s Twitter account announced: “The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The Royal Family’s website has gone black, with a simple austere image of the Queen and the message: “Queen Elizabeth II 1926 – 2022”.