Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Latest Posts

What it’s like to cover up the Queen’s death?

A little over a week ago (but if that feels like another era, it was) a colleague held a farewell party at the Yorkshire Gray pub in Farringdon. I was about to leave when I got a text that sent me into a panic.

It suggests that the Queen was nearing the end of her life, and we’d better get ready for one of the biggest news stories in living memory.

My first thought was whether I could get my hands on the laminated cheat sheets set aside for this case. Having ascertained their whereabouts, I went home, safe in the knowledge that most of the previous tips about Operation London Bridge had proved premature.

The next morning, Thursday, as we all delved into the new prime minister’s energy policy, it quickly became apparent that one of Britain’s biggest peacetime economic interventions would be part of our news bulletin only that evening.

Buckingham Palace’s ominous statement that the Queen was under “medical supervision” prompted an immediate change to the… Channel 4 News roadworthy – and also a wardrobe change, from a bright fuchsia to a sober navy.

A few hours later, even that seemed too optimistic and I traded for a black blouse. A black tie was sent to correspond with Matt Frei, who had received at Buckingham Palace.

And then, at 6:31 PM, the words we were all prepared for came, and yet the sheer magnitude of the moment still surprised us. Buckingham Palace has announced the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Experienced BBC presenter Huw Edwards apparently practiced the pronunciation in front of his bathroom mirror. His delivery was word perfect.

On Channel 4, of course, we’d also practiced replacing the Queen’s real name with ‘Mrs Robinson’, to prevent anyone tripping during rehearsal from sounding a false alarm. But it wasn’t until I heard the countdown in my ear that “Mrs. Robinson”‘s death became shockingly real.

Our correspondent Andy Davies found people in tears at Windsor Castle, stunned that someone who had been with them all their lives, as Edwards memorably put it, had ‘left us’. Their upset also brought tears to my eyes. After all, complaints are contagious.

At the end of my Times Radio show the next day, the national anthem was played after Charles III’s inaugural King’s Speech. My co-host Michael Portillo had entered the studio, ready for his program, and as soon as the national anthem started, he stood up respectfully. I arose also, and bled heartily, and replaced queen for king for the first time.

I was not prepared for the power of feeling during those first 24 hours. Storytelling is all-encompassing. Participate, even more. Personally, I have a low tolerance for the national pastime of queuing, so I marvel at the millions of thousands lining the embankment, on their way to Westminster Hall, or the thousands who passed Buckingham Palace at the start of the week, their flowers neatly arranged in mini mounds of mourning around Green Park. The cleanliness is the visible representation of years of invisible work by civil servants.

To enable media from all over the world to tell the story, a tent city has sprung up behind the palace. Rows of portaloos, a large number of lanyards and colored wristbands. Today’s wristband is plastic – an upgrade from yesterday’s paper wristband. Our planning supremo Stuart McTeer informs us what shade of bracelet is needed in his priceless morning email.

To keep up to date with the latest opinions and comments, sign up for our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter at click here

Some of our viewers wish this wasn’t the only story in town. And we certainly made sure to give airtime to the global response to the royal death, anti-monarchy protests, not to mention pivotal developments in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. I look forward to taking a closer look at Liz Truss’ “tax event” as well.

Standing among our Channel 4 News When the Queen’s casket returned to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night, I was sure I wouldn’t be one of those people who wanted to capture a fleeting moment of history on their cell phones. But – as Philip Larkin’s narrator go to churchwho is not usually devout, yet takes off his bike clips in “uncomfortable reverence” when he comes across a church – I too found myself grabbing a video.

As the hearse slid through the palace gates, a colleague burst into tears.

It was constitutional historian Walter Bagehot who warned against “letting magic in.” Of course, a new day will dawn, but for now the thousands queuing and the millions watching on TV are in raptures.

Cathy Newman is a presenter and research editor at Channel 4 News

Latest Posts

Don't Miss