I was in Buckingham Palace when the Queen died 

When I was planning this month’s articles at the end of last month, I had set aside today to feature my thoughts on the ‘Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession’ Display at Buckingham Palace, which I was due to visit during my visit to London in September enroute to Denmark to cover Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations, though never could I have guessed that I would be inside the Palace when Queen Elizabeth II passed away. 

The Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II


Over the past few years, I had a subconscious fear that I would be on a flight or somewhere remote or inaccessible when the Queen passed away. Never could I have imagined as I entered the Buckingham Palace, the seat of the British Monarchy, for the first time in the early afternoon of September 8th, that at the same moment, the oldest and longest reigning monarch in British history, and the longest inhabitant of the Palace, was passing away at Balmoral Castle.

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It was my first visit inside the Palace, and as I bought my ticket and entered the Palace, I could feel the sense of history walking up the steps, though was also delighted to see the Platinum Jubilee banquet made out of felt by artist Lucy Sparrow in the Grand Entrance.  From the Grand Entrance, I entered into the Grand Hall, taking in the decoration before walking up the Grand Staircase, but as I was walking up the stairs, I got a series of notifications from friends and the Royal Watcher team informing me that the Palace (which I had just entered) has released a statement on the Queen’s health. 

Following further evaluation this morning, 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.

While I initially dismissed it as just another harmless statement, by the time I walked through the Green Drawing Room, stopping to admire the pietra dura cabinets I’ve seen in numerous documentaries, and stopped in front of the Thrones of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in the Throne Room, the scene of many famous royal photographs, it was becoming clear that this statement was unlike any of the others that preceded it over the past year.  

As I walked into the picture gallery where some of the most splendid paintings by the most legendary artists hang, I was so distracted that I had to return multiple times to the same pictures, and at the same time, the statement released ahead of the death of the Queen’s grandfather in 1936 kept repeating in my head: “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close”. I then saw the magnificent paintings of Queen Victoria’s Coronation and Family in the East Gallery, seeing the jewels sparkle in the paintings in a way that is not visible on screen.

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One of the most prominent features of the Platinum Jubilee have been the Queen’s Dorothy Wilding Portraits from 1952, which were taken just days after her accession, with another series of Portraits taken a few months later. The ‘Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession’ Display at Buckingham Palace was the highlight of the Summer Opening of the Palace in the year of the Platinum Jubilee, and based itself around the jewels worn by the Queen for Dorothy Wilding Portraits in 1952 and in 1956. The exhibition was due to run until the 2nd of October, but was ended following the Queen’s passing.

There are articles on almost all of the jewels featured in the exhibition, so do click on the highlighted links to see the full article!

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The display began with the gown and coronet worn by the then Princess Elizabeth for the Coronation of her father, King George VI, in 1937, the portraits of which were also taken by Dorothy Wilding, before moving onto a two-strand pearl necklace and a Cartier sapphire and diamond bracelet given as 18th birthday presents to the then Princess Elizabeth.

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Then came the most iconic piece of jewellery associated with the late Queen, the spectacular Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara, which was was a wedding gift to Queen Mary and in turn was given as a wedding gift to the Queen in 1947, consistently being her most worn tiara over the past 75 years ago. 

The next display featured the Queen’s South African Diamond Necklace and Bracelet, a 21st Birthday Gift on a visit to South Africa, and I was struck by not only the large size of the diamonds but how small the necklace and particularly the bracelet were in contrast to the size of other jewels.  

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The most important jewel of the display was the George IV State Diadem, which was worn by the Queen going to and from the State Opening of Parliament every year, and will no doubt be one the jewels worn by Queen Camilla in the next few months. 

The next display featured the Delhi Durbar Necklace and the Earrings of the Cambridge Emerald Parure, where again I was struck by the large size of the emeralds and diamonds, but also the very small size of the necklace, which showed how petite the Queen was. The following display also included two jewels from Queen Mary, a pair of Diamond Bangles (one of my favourites in the collection) and the Dorset Bow Brooch. 

One of the jewels that I was most looking forward to seeing was the Vladimir Tiara set with the Cambridge Emeralds, where I could not help but think how this Tiara had been smuggled out of the Vladimir Palace during the Russian Revolution and has been worn so often by the Queen over the years. This was also the last Tiara worn by the Queen for the 2019 Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace.

The display ended with the spectacular Cartier Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace, a piece that has been a favourite of mine over the years and one that I have been very interested since attending the Cartier Exhibition in Dallas last month. After taking my discreet photographs, I went into a corner of the Ball Supper Room to check for updates and then tried to go again to the start to see the jewels and enjoy them through my own eyes, a process which had to be reported a few times as I was distracted by my own thoughts. 

After the Display of Jewels, I made my way through the Ballroom, and then the series of State Rooms: The State Dining Room, the Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room, and the White Drawing Room, which have often been used by the Royal Family (and where the portrait that I used to announce the death was also taken), and less than 24 hours later, the Blue Drawing Room was where King Charles III gave his first speech. From there I went down the stairs through the Marble Hall, where I stopped to view a stature of Queen Louise of Denmark (wearing the Danish Emerald Parure I had covered the previous day), and tried to see the statues and portraits as I walked out, stopping to glimpse the 1844 Room, where the late Queen and now the new King have held their audiences, before passing out.

As I exited the Palace, I was so preoccupied with finding out the news that I did not stop at the cafe like I originally had planned and instead walked down the famous steps to find a bench in the garden, where I took out my laptop and pulled up the precautionary article I had written around five years  ago announcing the Queen’s death. As I made the necessary changes, I instructed assistant editor Gabriel to click publish in case I wasn’t responding when the death was announced. Unbeknownst to us, around this time the Prime Minister had been informed of the Queen’s passing. As I was walking out of the Palace, it began to rain, though the Palace and gardens remained serenely perfect, and I noticed the bridge which will feature in an article next month. 

The rain continued as I reached my next destination, the Sky Garden, where after thunderous rain, it suddenly let up to a full rainbow over the Tower of London, which is when I knew somewhere inside that the Queen had passed away. I decided to make my way back to the Palace, and after an agonising few minutes on the underground, I arrived at St James’ Park station walking towards Buckingham Palace while my cell signal recovered to get sight of the Palace just as I received a message from assistant editor Gabriel: “published it”, looking up to see the flag being lowered. The next few hours were a daze as I tried to cover this sitting on the steps of the fountain across the Palace, as the area filled up with people. I was then bombarded by a series of interview requests, which, since I was standing in front of the Palace, was not an opportunity I could miss, though the connection was too poor to really have any meaningful dialogue, while I was still in shock over this completely unexpected news. 

After my plans being cancelled four times due to covid, my first visit to London had been in June, when I came to cover a series of exhibitions, give some lectures, and cover the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, when I had the privilege of seeing her appear on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace “for the final time”, a statement I jokingly said to friends and family all summer without knowing how true it would be. 

After arriving in London the day before my visit to the Palace (September 8th), I had given my sister and cousin a walking tour of the major sights, incidentally walking along the same route used in the Queen’s Funeral Procession from Parliament Square to Marble Arch. I was pointing out the stark contrast to the Mall filled with crowds during my earlier visit in June, and along the way, my cousin was curious about “where the trumpeters play and announcements are made”, so I took them to St. James’ Palace, saying: “When the Queen passes away, there will be an accession council and a proclamation from this balcony”, without knowing that Proclamation would happen there just days later. 

After going to Denmark to cover Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations, and whirlwind trips to Sweden and Spain, I returned to London as planned for a day and a half though did not extend my departure to stay for the Funeral. I instead wanted to pay my respects to the Queen as her Coffin was transferred from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, so in a day quite reminiscent of standing in wait on the Mall in June, I got a wonderful spot across Clarence House, seeing not only extended members of the Royal Family but also King Charles III and Queen Camilla as they made their way to Buckingham Palace. Later, I not only got to pay my respects as the Coffin of Queen Elizabeth II passed by, but I also got to see the Imperial State Crown and the Royal Family in the Procession. It was certainly quite a way to end my four-month trip that began with the Platinum Jubilee and ended with the death of the Queen.

While everyone else seemed initially unaware of the state of affairs while touring the Palace (I was the only one furiously checking twitter for any updates), I had a feeling that I was at a crossroads of history, unable to fathom that I, who had made a career out of my admiration for Royalty, would be on my first visit to Buckingham Palace when the Queen would be passing away. I had planned to see Buckingham Palace first and Windsor Castle the following day, but I am so glad that I went, since the Palaces closed on that day and the Jubilee Exhibitions have now been stopped, so I got to see these on the final day  they were displayed and who knows when and if these jewels will publicly reappear. In a sense, while I was able to admire the jewels and tried my best to enjoy them (trying not to let my intrusive thoughts ruin my experience), my first visit to the Palace was marred by the overwhelming personal grief at the back of my mind, though now, I will forever be able to say: “I was in Buckingham Palace when the Queen died”

The Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II

 Committal Service at St George’s Chapel | Funeral at Westminster Abbey Procession through London Heads of State Reception at Buckingham Palace | Royal Vigil | Grandchildren’s Vigil | Lying-in-State at Westminster Hall | Coffin Returns to Buckingham Palace | Lying-in-State at St Giles’ Cathedral 

Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara

Vladimir Tiara

Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara

Belgian Sapphire Tiara

Burmese Ruby Tiara

Brazilian Aquamarine Tiara

Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara

Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara

Queen Victoria’s Oriental Circlet Tiara

Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara

Plunket Tiara

Five Aquamarine Tiara

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