Editor’s note: VOA’s Sonya Lawrence Green happened to be in London during a historic week: Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned, Liz Truss became the new prime minister, and Queen Elizabeth II died after a 70-year reign. Here is her account.
I was sitting in a pub in London, on a weeklong visit to the United Kingdom, when the head barman rang a bell and shouted: “The queen is dead! Long live the king!”
Everyone stood up. All eyes turned to live coverage on the large TV screen. The mood was grave and respectful and hushed for several minutes. The whole country had been on what was being called “queen health watch,” and now Queen Elizabeth II had passed away at the age of 96. The queen’s death was not unexpected, but somehow it still came as a shock.
What a week to be in London. Boris Johnson delivered his farewell speech as outgoing prime minister, Liz Truss became the new prime minister and formed a new government, and the queen passed away after a historic reign.
There we were, a group of former foreign correspondents, once colleagues, now scattered around the globe, but reunited briefly in London for the memorial of a colleague. And now, a few days later, we were chatting in a pub when this news broke. Not on duty. But still.
At our table, we got to work. Not official work, but as journalists, if there is news happening, it’s instinctual to reach for more details: call, text, share memes, ask, “Have you seen this?” “Did you know that?” “What have you heard?”
I read aloud the accession protocols, which I found on an email from my news agency, and we marveled at the incredibly specific and arcane rituals of the British monarchy, while admiring their consistency in applying those customs for 900 years.
After getting all the facts straight, we turned to more personal reactions and talk. Nina sent video, sharing the atmosphere at the pub on her social media. Josh leaned over to ask if we had seen this tweet from @TheTweetOfGod, which said: “I can only save the Queen for so long.” Jane, who was awarded an MBE by the queen at Buckingham Palace for her services to broadcasting, sent a WhatsApp message speculating that the visits by outgoing Prime Minister Johnson and incoming Prime Minister Truss this week may have added undue stress to “Betty,” as she called the queen.
I decided to walk back to my hotel to monitor the ongoing coverage. In the rainy streets of central London, people were gathered in clusters, some sharing their thoughts about what happened. Flags were being lowered; plans were being made for ceremonies to come.
A swell of pedestrians headed toward Buckingham palace with flowers, in a heartfelt urge by some to express their condolences and convene with others to share this historic moment. A double rainbow had appeared over Buckingham Palace, drawing media attention and wishful talk of it being a sign that Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth were bidding a final farewell.
I took a moment to breathe in the damp London air and reflect on the life of a woman who had served her country as queen during unprecedented change in Great Britain and the world — to reflect on those who loved or hated or were indifferent to her and all she stood for — and to know that whatever comes next, she was released from this world now, her legacy complete.