The day that Queen Elizabeth II dies will elicit a series of carefully constructed plans that have been in place since the 1960s in a process dubbed “Operation London Bridge”.
Last year, a report by POLITICO shed new light on the specifics of how protocol will play out in the hours and days following the monarch’s death.
The Queen is 95 years old and expereinced “mild cold-like symptoms” after testing positive for Covid-19 on Sunday 20 February. In the months since, she has continued carrying out light duties, but has cancelled several virtual engagements since her diagnosis.
In April, the Queen said Covid left her feeling “very tired and exhausted” during a virtual call with a patient from the Royal London Hospital.
Preparation for the handling of the passing of a head of state, particularly when it comes to notifying key public figures and the public, must be carefully planned in advance.
In a series of documents obtained by POLITICO last year, the security plan is outlined in full, detailing everything from how news of the monarch’s death will be shared to the public to how quickly Prince Charles will ascend the throne.
It also includes details on what will happen during the 10 days following the Queen’s death, including where her coffin will go, how the prime minister will publicly address the news, and how Prince Charles will spend his first few days as King.
On Tuesday 22 February, “London Bridge” became a trending topic on Twitter after a US blog falsely reported that the Queen had died following her recent Covid-19 diagnosis. A Twitter account for the blog, Hollywood Unlocked, issued an apology for the false report and said it had been an “accident”.
However, the outlet’s founder Jason Lee claimed the apology was fake and said the story had not been retracted pending an official statement from Buckingham Palace. The story was false and the Queen has most recently been seen in-person attending Prince Philip’s memorial on Tuesday 29 March.
Now, new details for Operation London Bridge have been revealed with leatherworkers making more muffles for church bells which will toll when Her Majesty passes.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Central Council of Church Bell Ringers spokeswoman Vicki Chapman said: “We have spent a lot of time talking to the Royal Household and Lambeth Palace about the day the Monarch passes, which we hope will not be any time soon.
“Adding muffles makes bells sound mournful, more like a hum -so they will sound like thud, thud, thud rather than dong, dong, dong. It is about paying due reverence to the service of the Monarch and commemorating her life.”
Here’s everything we know so far about “Operation London Bridge”:
According to POLITICO, the day that the Queen dies will be referred to as D-Day, while every day afterwards will be referred to as D+1 and D+2 and so forth.
The report claims that a “call cascade” will take place hours after the monarch’s death to inform the prime minister, the cabinet secretary, and several senior ministers and government officials.
The prime minister will be told by the Queen’s private secretary, as will the Privy Council Office.
Departmental permanent secretaries will also be given a script in order to inform other government ministers that will read: “We have just been informed of the death of Her Majesty The Queen.” Ministers will also be told that “discretion is required.”
The cabinet secretary will send an email to senior civil servants. Currently, a drafted version of this is in the plans. It reads: “Dear colleagues, It is with sadness that I write to inform you of the death of Her Majesty The Queen.”
After this email is received, flags across Whitehall will be lowered to half-mast.
As for the public, they will be told by an “official notification” delivered by the royal household, the documents state.
Pilots will also inform passengers on flights if the news is announced when they are in the air.
Historically, the BBC has always been told about royal deaths ahead of other media outlets.
However, nowadays it is common for major announcements to go out to the world’s media at once via a news agency such as the Press Association.
Some broadcasters run rehearsals in which they practise announcing that the Queen has died so as to ensure they are prepared.
Obituaries will also have been prepared in advance, as will a number of pre-recorded films and documentaries.
If the Queen’s death is expected – in the instance that she has been severely unwell – the news will spread via the main TV channels first, with all BBC channels being interrupted to show the BBC One feed which will broadcast the story. Other independent channels may choose to do this as well.
How the news is relayed by broadcasters is of tantamount importance, with minor details such as their clothing coming under scrutiny from the public.
In April, the BBC received 109,741 complaints over its coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, who died at the age of 99, making it the most complained about piece of programming in the organisation’s history.
The company completely cleared its schedules to cover the news, replacing Eastenders and the MasterChef final with news programmes.
Many people took issue with the extent of coverage the organisation gave to the death.
“We acknowledge some viewers were unhappy with the level of coverage given, and impact this had on the billed TV and Radio schedules,” the BBC said in a statement.
“We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance.
“We are grateful for all feedback, and we always listen to the response from our audiences.”
It wasn’t the first time the BBC had been criticised for its coverage of a royal death. In 2002, the BBC’s Peter Sissons was harshly criticised by the public for wearing a red tie when he announced the death of the Queen Mother in 2002 – black ties are now usually kept on-hand by all UK major broadcasters for future royal death announcements.
According to POLITICO, the UK parliament will adjourn, as will devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The prime minister will subsequently make a statement; no other members of the UK government will be permitted to make any kind of statement until after this.
They will then have an audience with the new monarch, King Charles.
MPs will offer tributes to the Queen in the House of Commons the day after the Queen’s death. Parliamentary business will be suspended for 10 days.
A national minute’s silence will take place on D-Day, POLITICO claims.
Gun salutes will take place at all saluting stations as organised by the Ministry of Defence.
Later in the day, the publication adds that there will be a “spontaneous” remembrance service held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London with the prime minister and a few senior ministers in attendance.
According to POLITICO, the day after the Queen’s death, known as D-Day+1, the Accession Council will meet at St James’ Palace to proclaim Prince Charles the new sovereign.
Hundreds of people will be in attendance, including the prime minister and senior government ministers, who will all be asked to wear morning dress or lounge suits with black or dark ties.
At 3.30pm, as stated in the documents, the cabinet and the PM will hold an audience with King Charles.
On D-Day+3, he will receive the motion of condolence at Westminster Hall.
He will then begin a tour of the UK, with the first duty being a visit to the Scottish parliament. He will go to Northern Ireland the following day to receive a second motion of condolence at Hillsborough Castle.
Charles will then head to Wales and attend a service at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.
This depends on where the monarch dies. If Her Majesty dies at her residence in Norfolk, Sandringham, POLITICO states that her body will be taken by royal train to St Pancras station in London, where it will be brought to Buckingham Palace.
If she dies at Balmoral in Scotland, her body will be taken down to London by royal train as part of an operation known as “Unicorn” in the documents.
If this isn’t possible, the body will be taken by plane.
In both scenarios, the coffin will be welcomed by the PM and senior ministers.
On D-Day+4, there will be a rehearsal for the procession of the coffin from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster.
The actual procession will take place on D-Day+5 and will be followed by a service at Westminster Hall.
The Queen will then lie in state for three days at the Palace of Westminster, this is known as Operation Feather.
The royal family will announce plans for the funeral, which will most likely take place 10 days after the Queen’s death.
The funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey and there will be a national two-minute silence on the day at midday.
There will be processions both in London and Windsor, with a committal service taking place at St George’s Chapel.
The Queen will be buried at the King George VI Memorial Chapel in Windsor.
According to POLITICO, all government departmental social media pages will show a black banner in the wake of the Queen’s death and change their profile pictures to their departmental crest.
Any content that is considered non-urgent content will not be published. Additionally, retweets will be banned unless they are approved by the central government head of communications.
The royal family’s website will also update with a black holding page complete with a short statement confirming the monarch’s death. Similarly, the government website will have a black banner at the top.
On the day of the funeral itself, the London Stock Exchange will close, as will most UK banks.
The day of the funeral and the subsequent coronation will also become national holidays.
Some fear that such measures will cost the British economy billions of pounds – however, it’s difficult to know what the financial repercussions will be ahead of time.
While the Queen is known as “London Bridge”, other members of the royal family are also given code names that are used to refer to plans when they die.
Code names for royal deaths were initially introduced to prevent the news of a royal family member’s death leaking before the official announcement. Using code prevented Buckingham Palace switchboard operators learning of the news before it was made public.
However, most royal funeral plans have been so longstanding that the codenames have become common knowledge.
Arrangements for the Queen Mother’s – codenamed Tay Bridge – were 22 years old by the time she died at the age of 101.
Prince Philip’s death was referred to as “Operation Fourth Bridge”.
Prince Charles’ codename is Menai Bridge.
While there are no official codenames for the deaths of other members of the royal family, it has been reported that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known as “Danny Collins” and “Daphne Clark”. The initials DC represent their titles of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
And, though technically no longer royal family members, The Sussexes were reportedly known by the codenames “David Stevens” and “Davina Scott”.
In addition to Prince Charles becoming King Charles, other members of the royal family may choose to change their names in the event of The Queen’s death.
The Duchess of Cornwall, for example, will become Queen Camilla.
It’s also likely that the Duke of Cambridge will then become the Prince of Wales.
Additionally, Prince Charles will be given the option to change his name upon ascending to the throne, as royals can choose any one of their given names. This means he could be known as King Arthur, Philip or George.
[This article was originally published in September 2021.]