The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, England’s (and the world’s) longest reigning monarch, sent armies of U.S. anchors to London for an unprecedented spectacle that cast the queen in a glow of admiration and the media as interpreters of a dynastic system theoretically anathema to America itself.
As such the death of the queen likely necessitated plenty of cramming for U.S. anchors making the trip across the pond for all or part of the 10-day mourning period that began on Sept. 8 when the 96-year-old Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle, her beloved retreat in the Scottish Highlands. Of course, every U.S. network contracted with a cast of royal correspondents, experts on the House of Windsor who have the right plummy accents to confer authenticity to coverage.
The funeral procession from the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Abbey (during which King Charles, Anne, Princes William and Harry and other family members walked behind the coffin) began just before 6 a.m. on the East Coast. After the military bugler played the “The Last Post,” the congregation sang “God Save the King” (with cameras lingering on a teary-eyed Charles) and observed two minutes of silence. The lead-lined coffin (added to help preserve the body inside, multiple anchors offered) was then lifted back onto the gun carriage for the mile-plus procession down the London Mall, around Buckingham Palace to Wellington Arch. Then the coffin in a custom hearse embarked on a slow, 25-mile drive through London to Windsor Castle.
So the lengthy and numerous processions gave anchors and correspondents plenty of air time to vamp. The Americans for the most part seemed unselfconscious about being schooled about the quirks, idiosyncrasies and bizarre rituals of the royal family. On NBC, Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair’s royal editor, pointed to a tall man walking alongside the coffin. He was the 6 foot, 4 inches Paul Whybrew, known as “Tall Paul,” the Queen’s Page of the Backstairs. He worked for the queen for 40 years, and came to play a personal role in her life. They would often watch television together, said Nicholl, and Whybrew was known to circle her favorite programs for her in the TV listings. Nicholl also relayed a tale about the queen on a walk on castle grounds with an aide when she spotted, in the distance, a group of tourists she wished to avoid. “So she hoisted the aide into the heather and there they sat giggling like teenagers,” she said.
It may be impossible to verify this story, but there seems to be a growing canon of tales of the queen hiding in shrubbery. A new documentary on ITV claims she hid in a bush on the Buckingham Palace grounds to avoid Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu during an ill-advised state visit in 1978.
Daisy McAndrew, a royal contributor at NBC News, explained that the queen actually helped design the hearse carrying her coffin. “The color is called Royal Claret. It’s not black; it’s actually a very dark red.”
The custom hearse from Jaguar Land Rover, she added, has extra large windows for a clear view of the coffin and spotlights inside that illuminated the coffin at night.
There was, of course, much talk of succession and primogeniture. In 2013, the queen approved the Succession to the Crown Act, which gave daughters (not just sons) equal rights to the throne. Multiple anchors noted that Elizabeth would not have become queen if she’d had a younger brother. “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King, anchoring with “Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell, wondered why Charles’ coronation will not be held for nine months. CBS News royal contributor Julian Payne offered a convoluted explanation that included springtime and daylight hours, which would seem to lead viewers to the conclusion that the coronation hinges on the promise of balmy weather.
Tina Brown, who has written multiple books about the royals, including a biography of Princess Diana, offered that the interregnum should give the monarchy time to have “a careful think about what the coronation will offer, perhaps a more spiritual dimension.”
CBS News correspondent Holly Williams, stationed at Westminster, noted the unprecedented security protocols with 10,000 police officers, many armed (which is unusual for England). She added that most of the world leaders were bused to Westminster Abbey from a different location. But U.S. President Joe Biden was allowed to be driven in his limousine, nicknamed The Beast. This led King to ask Williams if there was any grousing. “Most world leaders, prime ministers, royalty are used to being put on shuttle buses like the rest of us are,” deadpanned King.
Mostly U.S. anchors avoided much commentary on the apparently ongoing rift between Harry and Meghan and the rest of the royal family. For that, one could turn to Fox News and persistent Meghan Markle critic Piers Morgan, who has a program on Fox Nation, and Sharon Osbourne. The duo joined Fox News anchors Martha MacCallum and Ainsley Earhardt for the network’s coverage of the funeral.
Osbourne lamented that Harry looked “so sad” walking behind his grandmother’s coffin, and that she found it “heartbreaking” to see him “where he belongs with the rest of the royal family.”
“He’s really made himself the black sheep,” she continued. “The country adored him and they did Meghan as well. I just don’t know how you give up your country for celebrity.”
Osbourne did not mention that the couple were relentlessly attacked by the British tabloids, one of which they sued for libel. And Meghan’s presence in England has sparked copious trolling from the British tabloids, which have snidely commented on her clothes, her hats and the apparent grave faux pas of holding hands in public with her husband on a somber occasion. Since removing themselves from royal duties and moving to the celebrity infested enclave of Montecito, California, Harry and Meghan have executed a series of production deals that have netted them millions, including $20 million from Netflix. Harry also reportedly received a $20 million advance for a memoir; the book has reportedly been postponed by Random House from late 2022 to 2023.
Speaking of Harry’s book deal, Osbourne added: “I would give back the money…for the book and just forget it because it will only cause more heartache for the royal family. I’m sure the book is [not] lighthearted because you wouldn’t get that kind of money unless it was somewhat scandalous.”
Morgan agreed and speculated that Harry “feels he has to settle scores for his mother. I don’t think his mother would have wanted him to do this. His mother never attacked the monarchy. She never did. She had issues with certain parts of her life, but she never attacked the institution. We get it, you hate your family. Get over it. You left the country for freedom and privacy and all you ever do is invade your own privacy on national TV in interviews.”