Update, Sept. 8, 2022, at 1:41 p.m.: Queen Elizabeth died on Thursday, the royal family announced. Now it really begins.
Original post: The queen is unwell. Not just a little unwell, either. During this afternoon’s parliamentary session in the Commons, our brand-new Prime Minister Liz Truss—who will find it hard to beat the “murdered the queen” charges given that they met just two days ago to officially begin her tenure—and the rest of government were handed a note that sent the room into panic. Grave faces, whispered remarks. Immediately, people began to speculate, and the question that has been brewing in the minds of every British person for at least five years finally came to the fore: Is the queen dead?
The queen is not dead, at time of writing. But I would be lying if I said I was not writing this very fast. The palace issued a statement shortly after noon saying the following:
Following further evaluation this morning, The Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision.
The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.
People have been all over this statement like ants on jam. In recent times, the queen has often had to cancel official engagements at short notice due to ill health. But this feels different. A statement like this, given directly to Parliament, means things are serious. All of the queen’s children, and a good number of royal family bit part players, have dropped what they’re doing and traveled to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to be with the queen.
It would be almost impossible to overstate just how insane things are going to get in the United Kingdom if the queen dies. The vibes on the ground here are somewhere between the night before an exam, Christmas Eve, and 9/11. Whatever your feelings about the queen, and feelings vary dramatically, everybody understands that as news events go, this is the big kahuna. There are monarchists in this country who love the queen like their own grandmother, and anti-monarchists who would spit on the ground where she walks.
News is traveling lightning fast. The movement of every senior person in government and in the BBC is being watched like a hawk. Huw Edwards, the BBC news presenter, has gone on air wearing a black tie, which is the canary in the mine for those in the know about the plans in place for the death of a monarch. BBC One has canceled all programming until 6 p.m. today. Five years ago, British journalist Sam Knight wrote a long read for the Guardian detailing the fact that every institution in the country has a minute-by-minute protocol for what should happen when our longest reigning monarch dies. It is said that the Times newspaper already has 11 days’ worth of news coverage ready to go. Every radio station has a prepared playlist of respectful music to play when the news comes. There have been rehearsals for this.
It feels very strange—everybody in the country waiting to hear the same piece of news. And it’s a strange time for this to be happening. The U.K. is not doing well. Skyrocketing energy prices, the hideous current cost of living, and general dissent about how difficult this coming winter is going to be would be extraordinary things to converge with having a new king, not least one who is as unpopular as Charles is. For now, there are new rumors circling every 20 minutes, and everybody on Twitter is trying not to post anything that might get them arrested for treason, or worse, quoted online by the Daily Mail. Whatever happens, the only guarantee is that when the queen does die, it is going to result in some of the most impassioned and bonkers public discourse in a lifetime.