Late queen feared dying at Balmoral would make things ‘difficult’, says Princess Anne

A new documentary recounts how the royal family navigated late Queen’s death and watched King Charles transition into new role

Ellie Muir
Friday 22 December 2023 09:11 GMT
Prince Harry leaves Balmoral Castle following Queen Elizabeth II's death

After 70 years of reigning as monarch, the late Queen Elizabeth II was still preoccupied with duty in the last days of her life when she expressed concern over dying at Balmoral.

In the forthcoming documentary Charles III: The Coronation Year, which will be aired on Boxing Day, the Princess Royal recounts the final days of her mother’s life and reign, and how Queen Elizabeth II thought dying at her favourite royal residence would be “difficult”.

The late monarch had said that she was concerned it would add issues for those implementing “London Bridge” – the codename for the arrangements of her lying in state, vigils and a grand state funeral.

However, in the documentary, Anne recalls that the royal family tried to persuade the late Queen that she need not be part of the decision making process prior to her death.

“I think there was a moment when she felt that it would be more difficult if she died at Balmoral,” said Anne in the documentary. “And I think we did try and persuade her that that shouldn’t be part of the decision making process."

She concluded with a laugh: "So I hope she felt that that was right in the end, because I think we did."

Different plans were in place if the Queen had died at any one of her main royal residences, from Sandringham to Windsor Castle, and even overseas, with the arrangements for Scotland given the codename Operation Unicorn.

Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the documentary features contributions from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and close friends, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at rehearsals for the coronation.

It recounts the moment when the royal family navigated the late Queen’s passing, when she died peacefully at Balmoral in Scotland on September 8 last year, aged 96, after reigning for 70 years.

Queen Elizabeth II felt it would be “difficult” if she died at Balmoral but was persuaded to step back from the “decision making process,” the Princess Royal has told a documentary (PA Archive)

The voice of Huw Edwards is heard in the documentary announcing the Queen‘s death on the BBC. The broadcaster has been suspended by the corporation while it conducts an investigation into allegations made against him earlier this year.

Anne recalled feeling a “sense of relief” when the crown was removed from her mother’s coffin by crown jeweller Mark Appleby at the Queen’s funeral in St George’s chapel.

“Somehow that’s it, finished. That responsibility being moved on,” she explained.

The documentary reflects on how the past 12 months have been a period of drastic change for Charles who has completed a number of firsts from carrying out his first overseas state visit to Germany to hosting South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa for the inaugural inward state visit of his reign.

Talking about the succession, Anne goes on to say: “To be honest I’m not sure that anybody can really prepare themselves for that kind of change... not easily. And then the change happens and you go ‘OK, I now have to get on with it.’”

“Monarchy is a 365 days a year occupation, it doesn’t stop because you change monarchs, for whatever reason.”

King Charles III and the Princess Royal arrive for the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II (PA)

“It’s a big operation; the amount of entertaining is much bigger than even they recognised,” says Anne. “But I think my brother is learning things about the organisation that he perhaps was very vaguely aware of before, and he’s enjoying that, too.”

She also praises Queen Camilla for her “outstanding” understanding of her role as consort and the comfort it gives to Charles.

“I’ve known her a long time, off and on,” Anne says of Camilla, who is seen by Charles’s side through much of the documentary. “Her understanding of her role and how much difference it makes to the king has been absolutely outstanding, and this role is not something she would have been a natural for, but she does it really well. And she provides that change of speed and tone, she’s equally modern.”

Charles III: The Coronation Year will be screened on Boxing Day at 6.50pm on BBC One and iPlayer.

With additional reporting from PA.

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