Britain got its first glimpse of King Charles III at around 12:14 pm on Friday when cameras filmed him getting out of his car and stopping to talk to three Aberdeen airport officials in the drizzle before climb the stairs on a small plane to return to London. He was accompanied by Camilla, queen consort, with her head under a transparent plastic umbrella.
It was the least opulent time of a day punctuated by ceremonial events, as Britain moved from one era to another.
The crowd was gathering outside Buckingham Palace as early as 6:30 am. Joggers, commuters and a few people holding flags stopped at the palace gates, pushing to photograph the black-edged official notice affixed to the railing announcing that the queen had died peacefully at Balmoral on Thursday.
When confronted with TV crews and microphones, many struggled to explain exactly why they came, often concluding they were there simply because they couldn’t remember a moment without Queen.
Throughout the morning, businesses and event planners have been trying to assess what the official mourning period must mean in practical terms. The courts of the Old Bailey marked the moment by silencing at 10 am and some judges arrived in black fringed mourning collars; the lawyers were getting used to their new titles, which had already changed from Queen’s counsel (QC) to King’s counsel (KC).
Some of London’s biggest stores, including Liberty and Selfridges, have decided not to open out of respect. By mid-morning, the government had published a guide stressing that “there was no obligation for organizations to suspend operations during the national mourning period”, but adding that some companies may “wish to consider” closing or postponing events, although this was entirely at their discretion.
Intended to clear things up, the guide led to a confused answer; London theaters said they would stay open, but the Proms were canceled. The Trades Union Congress announced it would be canceling its annual conference, which is due to start on Saturday, a protest in Hyde Park by Extinction Rebellion was canceled, a meeting of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee was postponed, the Horse racing events were rescheduled and the Premier La League announced that weekend matches would be postponed.
In Balmoral, the Queen’s closest relatives, summoned on Thursday due to the worsening of her condition, have begun to return home. Hints of tension between family members were distinguishable from the actual departure times. Prince Harry was the first to leave at around 8:15 am, just 12 hours after arrival. He was seen making his way alone to catch a British Airways flight, carrying a small backpack over his shoulder. Prince William traveled separately throughout the day to return to his family.
At noon, church bells in city centers and villages rang to celebrate the queen’s death. In Westminster, a House of Commons filled with black-robed MPs was one of the most striking mourning images of the day; the line of new faces on the government bench was also a clear reminder of how much Britain has changed over the course of just four days, with the change of prime minister and monarch.
Beginning a two-day session to allow politicians to pay their respects to the queen, the new prime minister, Liz Truss, said: “It was the rock on which modern Britain was built.” Using the still unknown term, she declared that the nation was now entering a new “Carolean age”. She and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an insight into how brilliant the Queen was on Tuesday when they had separate hearings with her at Balmoral. Truss said, “She generously shared with me her profound experience of governing her, even in those last days.” Interior Minister Tom Tugendhat shouted “God save the king” as he finished his speech. Describing her encounter, Johnson said: “In that audience, she was radiant, knowledgeable and fascinated by politics as I never remember.”
At 1pm, the BBC, which had canceled its regular programs for the second day, stopped the tributes to broadcast the 96-round gun salute launched simultaneously from across the country. Thousands of people gathered almost silently to watch a procession of 71 galloping horses in Hyde Park, before a 16-minute display of cannons firing blanks.
By early afternoon, several florists near Green Park had run out of flowers, but it would be wrong to suggest that signs of mourning were particularly visible everywhere in the capital beyond the immediate vicinity of the palace. Elsewhere, people went to work, put on their usual clothes, ate in restaurants, traveled on the subway, attended school, and grocery shopping.
Throughout London, there were only occasional and scattered signs that this was a significant day: a black band with the queen’s face spinning atop the BT Tower, images of the late monarch on digital panels at bus stops, and shortly before at 2:00 pm, the sound of televised helicopters following the King’s journey in a convoy along the streets cleared by RAF Northolt in central London.
A large crowd was waiting to greet him, thousands of arms stretched upward, in the style of a rock concert, each person trying to film the moment on their phones. In the eight minutes between 2:13 pm and 2:21 pm, the king shook hands with more than 200 people, most of them women, lined up against the barriers outside the palace. Occasionally using his left hand as well as his right, for greater efficiency, he smiled warmly and accepted a red rose, two kisses on the hand, and a kiss on the cheek, before stumbling into the building.
Elsewhere, companies have gone to great lengths to make sure they mark the time appropriately. The government mourning council suggested that organizations could recognize the mourning period on their websites, “for example, with the use of black borders or black banners.” By mid-afternoon, Sainsbury’s usually orange homepage had a black strap expressing her grief over the Queen’s death. The Royal Mail sent a message reassuring people that the Queen’s head stamps would remain valid.
Shortly after the king’s arrival at the palace, Truss arrived for his second audience with a monarch over the span of three days. Somehow, during the day, the king managed to find time to write and record a speech to the nation.
All day the choristers had rehearsed a revised version of the national anthem, God Save the King, which was then sung for the first time since 1952 during an evening prayer service in St Paul’s Cathedral.
When the service began at 6pm, the BBC and ITV simultaneously broadcast the new king’s nine-minute speech, which was filled with uninhibited and affectionate expressions of love for his “beloved mother”, as well as for his. “dear wife”, the new Queen Consort. In a speech clearly designed to build bridges, he said he also wanted to “express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas”.
He paid tribute to his mother’s “life well lived” and her “warmth, humor and an unerring ability to always see the best in people”, before committing to following the “unwavering devotion” she had shown to the nation. Concluding his inaugural address as monarch, he said, “And to my dear mother, as you begin your last great journey to reach my dear deceased father, I simply want to say this: thank you.”