Fact check: Queen Elizabeth death hoax stemmed from tabloid site

The claim: Queen Elizabeth II died on Feb. 22, 2022

Three days after Buckingham Palace announced that the United Kingdom’s 95-year-old monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, had tested positive for COVID-19, a celebrity tabloid set off a wave of Twitter and social media buzz when it claimed to have broken news of her death.

“Sources close to the Royal kingdom notified us exclusively that Queen Elizabeth has passed away,” Hollywood Unlocked wrote in a Feb. 22 Instagram post about the article.

Within hours, the outlet’s Instagram post accrued over 150,000 likes, hundreds of people shared the article and hundreds of commenters expressed condolences on the outlet’s Facebook post. The claim also appeared in a tweet from an account posing as CNN, which was later suspended.

However, many social media users and the chief of staff of the House of Lords were quick to say the claim was false, given that no official announcement was made. They were right.

Reports from Feb. 23 show the queen is alive and conducting official business.

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The Hollywood Unlocked account also contained an array of red flags, including a claim that the queen had been slated to attend the wedding of a British Vogue editor, when she only attends the weddings of family members.


Queen alive and performing her duties

On Feb. 22, Buckingham Palace announced that the monarch would cancel virtual engagements due to “mild, cold-like symptoms,” but it said she would continue to “carry on with light duties, such as working on state papers,” according to the BBC.

This was proved out the following day, when the queen held her weekly meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson by phone, the Associated Press reported.

She is still expected to attend an in-person diplomatic reception at Windsor Castle next week, the BBC said, and the palace continues to plan her four-day Platinum Jubilee weekend – a celebration of the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne – for this June.

As of the publication of this article, Hollywood Unlocked has not retracted its reporting. Jason Lee, the outlet’s chief executive officer, had tweeted that he was standing by his “sources” on Feb. 22 and had not retracted the report. The outlet did not respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

Queen Elizabeth II speaks during an audience at Windsor Castle where she met the incoming and outgoing Defence Service Secretaries, Wednesday Feb. 16, 2022. Buckingham Palace said Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022 that Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for COVID-19, has mild symptoms and will continue with duties.

Plan in place for notifying the public of the queen’s death

For decades, the British government has kept and rehearsed intricately detailed plans for the time following the end of the monarch’s reign, called Operation London Bridge. According to this plan, a cascade of news reports, official announcements and gestures from Buckingham Palace will make the news available around the world in a matter of minutes or hours.

Here’s how it will happen.

According to The Guardian’s analysis of documents detailing the plan, the queen’s private secretary, Sir Edward Young, will be the first person to hear of the queen’s passing from the royal physician. The next person to know will be the prime minister, who will be woken if not awake and told that “London Bridge is down” over a secure line, The Guardian reported in 2017. A flurry of calls will take place informing other ministers and senior officials.

While the BBC once had the exclusive right to break the news of a royal death, The Guardian says, the plan now stipulates that “the announcement will go out as a newsflash to the Press Association and the rest of the world’s media simultaneously.”

People gather in front of Buckingham Palace in London, after the announcement of the death of Britain

Around the same time, within 10 minutes of an email notification to civil servants, flags across Whitehall, the center of government in London, will be lowered to half-mast, according to Politico.

The news will be hard to miss: the BBC will interrupt all channels to announce the news and will follow this with days’ worth of preplanned reports. Other news outlets will do the same.

Fact check:News segment error sparks false claim about Queen Elizabeth II, ivermectin

Of course, none of this has happened, because this claim of the queen’s death is baseless.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Queen Elizabeth II died on Feb. 22. The queen participated in her weekly phone call with the prime minister on Feb. 23, the Associated Press reported. No official sources or credible news outlets reported her death, which would have been widely announced to the world’s media if it had occurred.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Associated Press, Feb. 23, Queen holds weekly audience with Boris Johnson over phone after Charles diagnosed with coronavirus
  • Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed Feb. 23, Queen Elizabeth II
  • BBC News, Feb. 22, Queen cancels virtual engagements as mild Covid persists
  • USA TODAY, Feb. 20, Queen Elizabeth II tests positive for COVID-19 with cold-like symptoms
  • The Royal Family, Jan. 10, Plans announced for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Central Weekend 2022
  • The Guardian, March 17, 2017, ‘London Bridge is down’: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death
  • Politico EU, Sept. 3, 2021, Britain’s plan for when Queen Elizabeth II dies
  • Dayo Okewale, Feb. 22, Tweet
  • The Royal Family, accessed Feb. 22, About Her Majesty The Queen
  • The Royal Family, accessed Feb. 22, Twitter feed (archived)

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