In London, it’s boom time for florists, especially around Buckingham Palace. After trading pounds for peonies, Britons stream through Green Park and make their way to the iron gates, where officers have been waiting for them. Leave your tributes—bouquets only, and please remove the cellophane—and pay your respects, but do be brief about it, because others are waiting. In the photographs splashed all around the Internet, the lilies always look fresh, but that’s because all of the detritus is whisked away every 12 hours to make room for the next batch. A few blocks away, at Westminster Hall, tens of thousands of mourners are arranged in a 10-mile-long line so they can spend a few short seconds with Elizabeth II’s oak coffin. We’re on a schedule here, people.
It’s impossible to do much of anything in the United Kingdom without a stern reminder that the country has suffered a tremendous loss. From the Cecil Beaton photographs lining Pimlico Road to the quasi-corporate billboards framing the entrance to Heathrow, the triumphant eyes of Her Majesty are inescapable. Good luck even ordering toilet paper without incident. Ocado, the online grocer, will get it to you on time, but not without also noting that their thoughts are with the royal family during this most difficult period.
At last—sympathy for Andrew and Harry! And maybe a smidgen of it is deserved. After all, the two defrocked royals who actually saw combat were not initially allowed to mourn in uniform—although Harry was at last allowed to suit up in his regalia. Andrew got his mother’s corgis.
When the news broke, there was sadness, but also some old-fashioned excitement. The moment we’d all been waiting for had finally arrived. Charles isn’t new, but as King, he’s a novelty. Anyone want to meet at the Churchill Arms pub in Notting Hill to watch the signing of the proclamation?
But wait—back to Her Majesty. Immediately, and in no uncertain terms, the Crown and its well-tuned apparatus roared into action to ensure that, at least in the short term, this moment is Elizabeth-specific. She’s the most popular member of the family by far, mostly for her humanity, but what’s the harm in deifying her in death? A media opportunity like this comes along only once in a lifetime …
A 10-day mourning period was quickly instated by Parliament, which struck many as rather extreme, but who’s to argue with the Crown? (And to whom can we lodge an official complaint when the media, too, has largely fallen into line in terms of Elizabeth-worship, even after giving the Cambridges nothing but hell for the past few decades?)
Good luck even ordering toilet paper without incident. Ocado, the online grocer, will get it to you on time, but not without also noting that their thoughts are with the royal family during this most difficult period.
The coffin became part of a caravan, almost carnival-like, that traveled back to London from Scotland (way under the speed limit) in a glass station wagon, eerily reminiscent of Snow White’s. Wherever she went, Elizabeth II—or what’s left of her—was as visible as possible. Only one week in, and she’s already a relic.
Only 2,000 mourners will attend the funeral, at Westminster Abbey, largely heads of state, Windsor intimates, and the top tier of the aristocracy. Do not expect an Elton John performance, a member of the Versace family, or a crush of paparazzi; that’s all way too Diana for this crowd. Elizabeth’s long-planned swan song will be stately and restrained, but even so, it will be quite swishy for the social set to watch from the rooftop terrace of the Turf Club, the stodgy gentlemen-only joint that overlooks St. James’s Park and the Mall. (Just don’t look too excited about it, for heaven’s sake.)
This circus would make much more sense if the monarchy, as an institution, were more popular. In a 2021 survey, 25 percent of Britons said that it is “not at all important” or should be abolished entirely. But this Elizabethan Spectacular kind of works because the monarch, as a woman and leader, was so beloved. Almost everyone can agree that she did an exceptionally good job for an exceptionally long time; professionally, she’s as good as it gets, and her icon status, at least on that front, is well deserved.
Meanwhile, only a few days in, King Charles III is already warring with fountain pens. It’s going to be a heavy lift to craft a new narrative for a man whose original aspiration was, as he told his wife-to-be, to be a Tampax inside her. But if the hagiography of Elizabeth II is successful, perhaps her next of kin can capture some of the afterglow. It’s too bad it can’t heat homes in Britain this winter.
Ashley Baker is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail