Everyone remembers where they were last September when they learned of Queen Elizabeth’s death at 96. Her passing, while not unexpected, was a surprise nonetheless. While the monarch had not been seen in public for over a month, Her Majesty was photographed meeting Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, two days before she died, giving many people hope that despite looking unwell, Elizabeth would at least see out the end of her momentous and historic platinum jubilee year.
But it was not to be. The queen’s health deteriorated rapidly (there were unconfirmed rumors of a fall) and her immediate family rushed to Scotland after being told the situation was grave.
Just hours before Buckingham Palace announced that the queen was being attended to by medics, I met with Donal McCabe, Her Majesty’s head of communications, at a coffee shop around the corner from the palace. McCabe, a friendly and affable press officer, was uncharacteristically distracted and looked paler than usual. Naturally I inquired about the queen’s health. In the final photograph ever taken of her, the queen looked terribly frail as she met with the new prime minister and her hands were badly bruised. I was told by one source close to the family that the queen had been having regular blood transfusions but McCabe was his normal discreet self. He was, however, clearly on edge and having checked his phone various times during our 11 a.m. meeting, he advised me to get back to my desk.
Shortly after noon, the palace announced that the queen was being attended by her medical team. The statement read, “The Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision. The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.” This in itself was unprecedented, as the palace almost never comments on the queen’s health, and so in that moment it was clear the situation was grim. I headed home to get the black dress I had ready for this occasion while telephoning my contacts. They were deeply concerned and waiting for an update from Scotland as immediate members of the family including Prince William, Edward and Sophie, and Prince Andrew scrambled to get to Balmoral in time.
A spokesperson for Prince Harry said that the queen’s grandson was in London for an awards ceremony which he canceled so that he could travel to Scotland. Meanwhile, rumors of the queen’s imminent demise spread around the world on Twitter and other social media platforms. It would be several hours, however, before the world would learn that the queen had died peacefully at Balmoral in her bed with her son and heir Prince Charles and her daughter, Princess Anne, by her side. Dr. Douglas James Allan Glass, a local general practitioner who was the apothecary to the queen for almost 35 years, was also in attendance. According to the queen’s death certificate, she died at 3:10 p.m. with her cause of death listed as “old age.”
BBC News anchor Huw Edwards, dressed in a black suit and tie, broke the news to the world. “A few moments ago, Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Palace has just issued this statement: ‘The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,’” he said somberly.
I had been told the news by a royal source soon after the queen passed. My contact called me in tears and whispered through the phone, “She’s gone.”
The queen had wanted to die at Balmoral, according to her late cousin and confidant Lady Elizabeth Anson who I spoke with on a regular basis during her lifetime. Scotland was where she felt most at home and at peace. And so, the queen was granted her final wish.
One year after her death, King Charles will be at his mother’s beloved Balmoral where he will mourn his mother privately in a country he loves as much as his mother did. Given that the monarch is in residence at Balmoral until September, Balmoral Castle will likely always be where Charles will mark the anniversary of his dear mama’s death. And in doing so he will continue a tradition: The late queen would always spend February 6 at Sandringham so that she could mark the passing of her father, King George VI, who died there in 1952 when the young Princess Elizabeth was just 25 years old.