The day Queen Elizabeth died: the inside story of her final hours

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Plans in the event of Queen Elizabeth II’s death were meticulous; they were revisited and updated regularly.

On 8 September, they were executed flawlessly.

But not everything could be anticipated.

Balmoral Castle, despite its grand, gothic revivalist exterior, is intimate compared with Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, which is one of the reasons the late queen loved it.

Its private quarters and official offices are quite close together.

So on the morning of 8 September, few, if any, at Balmoral would have been unaware of the momentous events unfolding as the queen’s life quietly ebbed.

Two days previously, leaning heavily on a stick but with that familiar smile in place, she had appointed her 15th and final British prime minister, Liz Truss.

But an announcement just after 6pm the following evening, that the queen was postponing a virtual privy council meeting on the advice of doctors, was concerning.

The imminent death of a sovereign is a major constitutional matter.

No 10 would have been alerted immediately about her deteriorating condition.

Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, and Sir Edward Young, the queen’s private secretary, would serve as the pivotal liaison between the palace and Downing Street.

That evening, Case was informed, and passed the message on to Truss, that there was the distinct possibility the queen’s condition might worsen rapidly.

As Truss worked late on the energy statement, her first major act as prime minister, she had in the back of her mind the fact it might all be overshadowed, according to sources.

If any of the staff at Windsor were uncertain of how serious the situation was, the departure of the queen’s helicopter from Windsor Castle shortly before 7am to take the Prince of Wales from Dumfries House in Ayrshire,

where he was staying that night, to his mother’s bedside, would have alerted them.

Charles arrived at Balmoral shortly before 10.30am, and the Duchess of Cornwall was driven from nearby Birkhall to join him.

The Princess Royal, in Scotland on engagements, was already there.

In No 10, Case was categorical that bad news was on its way, perhaps in a matter of hours.

Truss had still not packed all her clothes for her move into Downing Street and, according to the biography Out of the Blue, aides were sent to her Greenwich home to locate black clothing.

Truss was also still mid-reshuffle when the palace started to inform key people in government through its planned “cascade” system.

One minister said they walked into their new department to be told without any ceremony: “You have a meeting in 30 minutes.

”Officials said in direct language that they expected the queen’s death was imminent and that the first job of the minister would be an immediate briefing on the so-called

“That was like a baptism of fire for me,” the minister recalled.

“I didn’t back Liz, I was expecting to be on the backbenches.

So not only was I thinking about moving departments, taking a job that was very new to me, but within minutes I was part of one of the most high-profile operations on Earth.”

Indications to the general public that something was wrong came in a place where the queen is almost never mentioned – the House of Commons.

Truss had finished her opening remarks and was listening to Sir Keir Starmer.

The new chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, slipped into the chamber and inserted himself between Kwasi Kwarteng and Truss to speak to the prime minister, handed her a note, then slipped out again.

MPs picked up the frisson almost immediately, beginning to whisper among themselves.


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