Inside “Operation London Bridge,” the Detailed Plan for When Queen Elizabeth II Dies

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Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images

It’s awkward to talk about someone’s death when they’re still very much alive and well, but when it comes to Queen Elizabeth II, plans have been in place for her eventual passing for years. In fact, she’s likely been part of them. On top of extremely detailed funeral plans, there is a system in place for exactly what will happen during the nine days after Queen Elizabeth dies—from who finds out first to how the country will go into mourning to what is expected of Prince King Charles—all of which is referred to as Operation London Bridge.

These plans would typically be a strictly guarded secret, but between The Guardian’s Sam Knight doing a huge amount of original reporting on the matter and Politico obtaining official documents drawn up by the cabinet office in 2021, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect in the 10 days between Queen Elizabeth II’s death and her funeral.

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

The Day the Queen Dies (Aka D-Day)

If there is an awareness that the Queen’s passing is imminent (in other words, if she is sick), The Guardian reports that her senior doctor “will be in charge” and will control both access to her room and what information is made public. In this case, the palace will likely indicate that the Queen is unwell but won’t go into specifics—giving her subjects time to prepare for the news of her passing.

But whether this is the case or the Queen passes away suddenly, the protocol remains the same: Her Majesty’s private secretary will convey the news to the prime minister (aka Boris Johnson) via the code words “London Bridge is down.” Honestly, though, this phrase is so well known now that it has doubtless been changed.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

Politico reports that there is a call script and ministers will be told—upon receiving the news—that “discretion is required.” They’ll also get an email from the cabinet secretary that reads, “Dear colleagues, It is with sadness that I write to inform you of the death of Her Majesty the Queen.” Flags will then be lowered to half mast, preferably within 10 minutes.

From there, the news will go to other governments where the Queen is head of state and to commonwealth countries. Then the press association will be briefed, although in all likelihood, the internet will know well ahead of time because of a little thing called Twitter. We all remember how fast Hollywood Unlocked’s incorrect report that the Queen had died took over in early 2022.

Amid all this, The Guardian reports that a “footman in mourning clothes” will pin a notice to the gates of Buckingham Palace, while Politico reports that on top of the royal family’s website changing to a black screen with the same notice, retweets from government social accounts (which will show a black banner) will be banned.

At this point, the prime minister will make a statement, there will be a gun salute, and the nation will hold one minute of silence.

Photo credit: Jack Taylor - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jack Taylor - Getty Images

Charles Will Immediately Be King

King Charles’s coronation will happen months (even up to a year) after the Queen dies, but he’ll be a king the second she passes. According to The Guardian, Charles’s siblings will “kiss his hands,” and Politico reports he’ll give an address to the nation at 6 p.m. There will also be an immediate service of remembrance (planned to appear “spontaneous”) at St Paul’s Cathedral, which will be attended by the prime minister.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

The Next Day

Charles will be officially proclaimed a king (although, again, he’s technically king the moment his mother passes) at 10 a.m. the next day by the “accession council,” and then he’ll meet with the prime minister and other important government officials, at which point he’ll presumably be briefed on things that only his mother was previously privy to.

Two Days Later

The Queen’s body will return to Buckingham Palace’s throne room as flags remain at half mast and bells tolls (the Daily Mail reports that the bells will be muffled, and Britain’s leatherworkers are already being “mobilized” to make bell muffles). If Her Majesty passes away outside of London, her coffin will be taken by royal train to the city and will be met by the prime minister.

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Three Days Later

Charles will go on a brief tour of the United Kingdom.

Four Days Later

While Charles is on tour, funeral rehearsals for the Queen will begin. Per The Guardian, Her Majesty’s funeral will be arranged by the Duke of Norfolk and will involve a huge amount of planning—even though logistics have been in place since the 1960s. In fact, The Guardian reports that there are meetings “two or three times a year” on the matter, although some things will be left for Charles to decide.

Five Days Later

The Queen’s coffin will move from Buckingham Palace to Westminster in a one-hour procession, which will be followed by a service in Westminster Hall. The Guardian reports that the Queen will “lie in state” for another four days and hundreds of thousands of people could visit her coffin.

Six Days Later

A funeral rehearsal will take place.

Seven to Eight Days Later

The government will continue preparing for the funeral, which Politico reports is full of “potential challenges,” like dealing with an influx of tourists, security, the arrivals of heads of state, overcrowding, and the worry that London could literally become “full.”

Nine Days Later

The Queen’s actual funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey nine days after her death, and The Guardian reports that basically everything will be closed—including the stock market—due to a “day of national mourning.”

Photo credit: Heritage Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Heritage Images - Getty Images

Big Ben will strike, and the country will have another moment of silence. The Queen’s coffin will then be transported by hearse to Windsor Castle, where she will be greeted by the royal household. At this point, the Queen will be laid to rest in the “royal vault” in King George VI Memorial Chapel.

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