The Top-Secret Plan For How Things Will Unfold Right After Queen Elizabeth II Dies

One day a somber-faced footman will walk across the broad gravel courtyard at the front of Buckingham Palace. He’ll attach a black edged notice to the palace gates. It will be an announcement that everyone knows must come at some point, but no one in Britain looks forward to with anything but resigned gloom. This is one of the first ways in which Queen Elizabeth II’s death will be formally revealed to the world.

Elizabeth came to the throne on the death of her father, George VI in 1952. She was just 25 years old. She had every right to have expected at least a few more years unburdened by the heavy responsibility of monarchy. But His Majesty was only 56 when he passed away at Sandringham, a royal retreat in Norfolk.

George suffered badly from ill health towards the end of his life. A heavy smoker, he had lung cancer and other ailments related to smoking. Coronary thrombosis was the official cause of death. But given that George’s death was hastened by tobacco, and perhaps too the stresses of the Second World War, his relatively early demise is likely to have little bearing on the current Queen’s longevity.

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Elizabeth celebrated her 92nd birthday in 2018, so her death cannot be too far away. But her mother, also named Elizabeth, lived to see her 101st birthday before she died in 2002, so Her Majesty may be with us for some years yet. And the Queen Mother’s funeral was the last significant royal funeral in Britain.

Before that, we had the death and funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. That saw an extraordinary outpouring of raw emotion and grief from the majority of British people. Her death of course came at the age of just 36. And the car crash in that Paris underpass was a particularly tragic and shockingly unexpected ending to her life.

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Both of those funerals exhibited just the kind of pomp and circumstance you’d expect from a U.K. royal event – both royal weddings and funerals are unmatched specialties of the British. But things were not always so decorous. For example, it’s said that the undertakers at the 1817 funeral of Princess Charlotte were the worse for liquor. The chances of that happening at Elizabeth’s funeral are zero.

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In fact, from the moment of the Queen’s death, an incredibly detailed masterplan will swing into action, a schedule formulated and revised over many years. And, of course, the Queen’s death is the first act of a two-part drama. The second episode will see the coronation of her eldest son Charles, an event that will be as momentous as the Queen’s death.

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The whole affair comes under the auspices of something known as Operation London Bridge. And indeed courtiers and officials will use the phrase “London Bridge is down” as code for the Queen’s death in the short time before the news is officially made public. As well as the ceremonial placing of the notice on the Buckingham Palace gates, officials will release a synchronized statement to major media outlets around the world.

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Operation London Bridge will be a massive exercise in logistics. Planning for the Queen’s death started as early as the 1960s and has involved London’s Metropolitan Police, the military, broadcasting and press representatives, government ministries and even the Royal Parks Authority.

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What happens when Elizabeth dies depends to some extent on where she is. We can be pretty certain she’ll be in Britain as she hasn’t traveled abroad since 2015. Understandably given her age, she now leaves foreign visits to younger members of the royal family. But it’s worth remembering that when younger she graced no fewer than 117 of the world’s nations with her presence.

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However, should she happen to die while out of the country, she’ll be flown home aboard a Royal Air Force plane to Northolt, an RAF base just west of central London. If she dies at Windsor Castle, a 90-minute drive west of London, or at Sandringham, 110 miles north of the capital, a car will return her to Buckingham Palace.

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In any of the above scenarios she’ll remain in Buckingham Palace in the Throne Room for four days after her death. Then she’ll lie in state for four further days at Westminster Hall, near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Things get a little more complicated, however, if the Queen happens to die in Scotland.

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Elizabeth spends a quarter of each year in the north-east of Scotland at Balmoral Castle. Should she die there, she’ll be taken to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and from there she’ll travel in the royal train down to London. Crowds would likely gather at various spots on the route with floral tributes.

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Wherever the Queen has passed away, as we’ve seen, four days after her death she’ll be moved from Buckingham Palace for the four days of lying in state at Westminster Hall. Members of the public will be able to troop past the Queen’s coffin to pay their last respects.

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Guarded by soldiers in full ceremonial uniform, the closed coffin will rest on a splendid purple catafalque. Some 305,000 people came to pay their respects the last time a British monarch died – the Queen’s father George VI in 1952. The mourners formed a queue four miles long. The prediction for the Queen’s lying in state is an attendance of 500,000.

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Nine days after the Queen’s death will come the state funeral in Westminster Abbey. Broadcast images of that event will be shared around the world. No fewer than 2.5 billion people are estimated to have watched the live coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997. Just how many will witness the Queen’s is anybody’s guess.

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It will certainly be dramatic, but it’s rather difficult to calculate the precise effect that Elizabeth’s death will have on the British people. It’s worth remembering that after her nearly seven decades on the throne, those who can remember any other monarch are a steadily diminishing minority.

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The impact of Elizabeth’s death is bound to be significant, even for those who have little time for royalty. What’s more, it’s difficult to calculate how the British public will react to the replacement of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip by King Charles III – if, indeed, he selects that name – and Queen Camilla, should she adopt that moniker. Camilla in particular may have difficulty in winning over the hearts of British people.

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People have not forgotten the disastrous saga of Charles and Diana’s marriage, and the part that Camilla is widely believed to have played in dooming the union to failure. However unfair this may be, there is little doubt that Camilla has not the popularity of some royal figures. For example, foreign newcomer Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex – formerly Meghan Markle – has found it much easier to win the affections of the British than Camilla ever did.

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But the royal family is all about continuity. And while Charles and Camilla may never be as loved by most of the British as Queen Elizabeth, it’s likely that they’ll find a way to carry on the royal tradition. But in late 2018 Charles is already on the threshold of his 70th birthday. So we can be fairly sure that his reign will be a lot shorter than his mother’s.

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