The Secret Procedure for Queen Elizabeth II's Death

Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth II. / Chris Jackson/GettyImages

The queen’s private secretary will start an urgent phone tree. Parliament will call an emergency session. Commercial radio stations will watch special blue lights flash, then switch to pre-prepared playlists of somber music. As a this video from Half As Interesting relates, the British media and government have been preparing for decades for the death of Queen Elizabeth II—a procedure codenamed “London Bridge is Down.“

There’s plenty at stake when a British monarch dies. And as the Guardian explained in 2017, royal deaths haven’t always gone smoothly. When the Queen Mother passed away in 2002, the blue “obit lights“ installed at commercial radio stations didn’t come on because someone failed to depress the button fully. That's why it's worth it to practice: As Half as Interesting notes, experts have already signed contracts agreeing to be interviewed upon the queen’s death, and several stations have done run-throughs substituting "Mrs. Robinson" for the queen’s name.

You can learn more about “London Bridge is Down“ by watching the video below—or read the Guardian piece for even more detail, including the plans for her funeral and burial.

Because Queen Elizabeth II died in Scotland, her passing launched a concurrent process known as “Operation Unicorn.” According to this protocol, the queen will be transferred from Balmoral Castle to Edinburgh before arriving in London via the royal train. 

This story originally ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2022.