It’s been a weird few days in the UK.
Last Thursday lunchtime, reports came in that the Queen was seriously ill. I was ready to dismiss the news – over the past year or so, there have been several reports of the Queen’s declining health, and each time she has pulled through and lived to see another day. We had all seen her meet the new Prime Minister just two days earlier, and she looked cheerful, if frail. The Queen, it seemed to all of us, would live forever.
However, the confirmation that the Queen’s family was racing to Balmoral, indicated that this was something different. The news was considered serious enough to interrupt a House of Commons debate. Grave enough that BBC One interrupted Bargain Hunt to go to continuous breaking news. The biggest sign that Something Big was happening came a little while later, when all the presenters suddenly donned black clothes, not just on the BBC, but Sky and other channels too.
The hours of speculation became rather gruelling to watch, with little actual news to report and the news channels spending much time broadcasting live pictures of a gate at Balmoral. The actual announcement, when it came, was handled impeccably by Huw Edwards, the true professional that he is.
There is much to debate about the monarchy’s place in British society. On the one hand, you can point to the outpouring of tributes as an indicator of the Queen’s ability to bring people together. Conversely, the entrenched wealth and privilege at the heart of the institution often feels quite inappropriate while millions struggle to make ends meet. It’s certainly rather distasteful to see people being hauled away by police for peaceful protests.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a significant moment. The Queen was woven into our national life in numerous tangible ways: her face on coins, bank notes and postage stamps; her Christmas Day message; her appearances with James Bond and Paddington Bear. For the vast majority of the population, she is the only monarch we have ever known. Her absence is going to take some getting used to.