A collage representing what will happen when the Queen dies

Ever wondered what will happen when the Queen dies? She's been on the throne so long, it's difficult to picture the royal family without her at the helm.

No one wants to speculate on possible tragic events. And aside from testing positive for Covid-19 (opens in new tab) recently, there's nothing to suggest that the Queen isn't in good health. But Operation LONDON BRIDGE was created by officials and the monarch herself to prepare everyone, including the Prime Minister and the world's media, for what to do in the event of her death. 

It outlines the plans for what will happen when the Queen dies in the 10 days afterwards. Including where the Queen will be buried (opens in new tab) and how the royal line of succession (opens in new tab) will change as Prince Charles becomes king and the strict rules on how the public will find out the news. 

What will happen when the Queen dies?

When the Queen dies, Prince Charles will become King almost immediately by default and Camilla will become Queen Consort, it has been confirmed. This is the rule under common law, experts at University College London's Constitution Unit (opens in new tab) explain, and it's unlikely that Prince Charles would give the throne to his son, Prince William. "It would be natural for Prince Charles to want to assume the throne and perform the royal duties for which he has spent so long preparing," they say.

In early February 2022, the Queen confirmed that when the title changes hands she would like Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to be known as the "Queen Consort" (opens in new tab). It's a title that Prince Charles himself described as a true honour for both him and his "darling wife".

An aerial shot of London Bridge - the bridge that bares the nickname of the operation when the Queen dies

The plan is named after London Bridge, which sits between the City of London and Southwark. Credit: Getty.

According to professor Nicoletta Gullace (opens in new tab), who specialises in modern British history at the University of New Hampshire, the code name for Charles’s taking the throne is "Operation Spring Tide".

"Once the flags have been lowered and the cannons fired, marking the queen’s death, the prime minister will hold his first audience with the new king,” she adds. After meeting with the Prime Minister, the new King will address the nation.  

If Prince Charles opts to keep his own name (a choice every royal makes when they ascend the throne), he will be known as King Charles III. While Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and second in the line to the throne, will become the Prince of Wales - like his father was. 

The first official to deal with the news of the Queen’s death will be her private secretary. This is currently Edward Young (opens in new tab), who gained the position when Sir Christopher Geidt retired in 2017. He will inform the prime minister, the cabinet secretary, the most senior ministers and the Privy Council Office (opens in new tab), which coordinates government work, of Her Majesty’s death. 

The Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre, which sits at a secret location in London, will send out the news to 15 governments where the Queen is also the head of state. They will also inform other nations of the Commonwealth (opens in new tab), where she is the symbolic figurehead. 

This will all happen before us, the general public, find out that she has died. Another announcement will go out to the Press Association and the rest of the world’s media at the same time. This is when we’ll likely find out the news. When Princess Diana died (opens in new tab), however, it was the hospital's anaesthesiologist, Dr. Bruno Riou (opens in new tab), that told the media - one hour after she was pronounced dead. 

Although very morbid, obituaries for the Queen’s death have already been prepared by major news outlets. So these will probably come out quickly after the news breaks. It was the same case when Prince Philip died (opens in new tab) and the procedure is in place for other royals and famous figures. 

BBC Two and other networks will cancel regular programmes (opens in new tab) like Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders and switch to a broadcast of the announcement. BBC News will air a pre-recorded sequence of portraits. Presenters who are on duty at the time will prepare for the announcement by changing into black clothes.

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On the radio, DJs are told to switch to the news and play inoffensive music. Every station across the UK has playlists called Mood 2 (sad songs) and Mood 1 (very sad songs) to play immediately in times of sudden morning. Speaking to Huff Post in 2011, BBC radio producer Chris Price said, "If you ever hear Haunted Dancehall (Nursery Remix) by Sabres of Paradise on daytime Radio 1, turn the TV on. Something terrible has happened."

As soon as the news becomes public via the media, a footman dressed in mourning clothes will come out from the front door at Buckingham Palace and put a note on the gates. Much like after the death of Prince Philip, the palace website will display the news on a sombre page. Across Whitehall, all the flags will be at half-mast. 

Will there be 12 days of mourning?

Yes, there is a 12-day mourning period after the Queen dies. Known as the 'D-Days' - according to documents seen by Politico (opens in new tab) - they involve all the preparations for the Queen’s funeral. They also outline plans for Prince Charles’ accession to the throne.

Specific political events also will occur during this time. For example, Parliament will meet to agree on a message of condolence. Whilst MPs will give tributes in the House of Commons as they did following the death of Prince Philip (opens in new tab). They then suspend all other business for 10 days.

Queen Elizabeth II arrives for the state banquet in her honour at Schloss Bellevue palace on the second of the royal couple's four-day visit to Germany

Credit: Getty

Prince Charles will take on a tour to visit Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

During this time, the Queen’s body will stay at Buckingham Palace. It then will move to the Palace of Westminster on day 5 so the public can pay their respects. Her body will lie in state, meaning there will be public access to the coffin, for three days. Her coffin will be on a raised box in the middle of Westminster Hall. This is part of an operation called FEATHER. The public will be able to visit 23 hours per day.

When will the Queen's funeral be?

The Queen will have a state funeral on day 10 of the mourning period, held at Westminster Abbey. This will include a 2-minute silence across the UK at midday. Processions will take place in both London and Windsor. 

A committal service will take place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. And it's likely this will act as the 'public memorial' that will be televised across the nation.

After the service, the Queen will be laid to rest in the castle’s King George VI Memorial Chapel. Her coffin will be placed next to her husband Prince Philip and her parents and sister - King George VI, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

How long has the Queen been on the throne?

Queen Elizabeth II is officially the UK’s longest-serving monarch, having welcomed in 70 years on the throne on February 6, 2022. The momentous occasion - known as her Platinum Jubilee - is being celebrated in June with an extra bank holiday in 2022 (opens in new tab).

As part of the celebrations, tickets for a Buckingham Palace concert (opens in new tab) are available and a new Jubilee statue has been unveiled (opens in new tab) already.

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A photo posted by on

Queen Elizabeth II became Queen on February 6 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI.

What will happen if the Queen dies at Sandringham or Balmoral?

If the Queen dies outside of Buckingham Palace, there are other procedures in place. Her body will be transported back to London, where the necessary preparations for her funeral and the mourning period will be made. 

Sandringham, Norfolk

A royal train would carry the Queen’s body into St. Pancras station, where the prime minister and other cabinet ministers would meet her coffin. 

Officials would then take her body to Buckingham Palace. Procedures for the mourning period and her funeral would go on as originally planned. 

Balmoral, Scotland

Known as Operation UNICORN, the royal train would carry the Queen’s body down to London if possible. If not, Operation OVERSTUDY takes place. 

This is where a plane transports the coffin down to London. Much like the Sandringham plan, the prime minister and others would welcome the coffin at a reception.

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Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for Goodto.com, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics.  She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.