OPERATION LONDON BRIDGE: What surprised and what worked well in public sector comms teams

There’s no doubt that the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the transfer of power to her son would be a challenge.

The last time a Monarch died, it was 70 years ago and old men and women who can recall it have retired years ago.

Operation London Bridge was the plan for how the Government was to react. A careful choreography of appearance and announcement.

“The Queen is dead. Long live the King.”

The age-old announcement of change in United Kingdom & Northern Ireland has its roots in avoiding a vacuum in the Medieval transfer of power. But in a 21st century country wired for minute-by-minute news the shock of the change powers through like electricity to bring a detailed communications plan alive.

This week, I asked the members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace to share what surprised them in the first five days of the 10-day Operation London Bridge plan.

What surprised

“Surprised – The lack of space to be part of the news unfolding. No time to watch, or reflect, or notice my own feelings – as well as aware that if I did I wouldn’t be able to do the job. I feel like I missed an important moment in our history.” – Sara Hamilton.

“Surprised we’ve not had more abuse and trouble from republicans – they turn up in large numbers online whenever there’s a Royal visit to decry us but they’ve respected this and don’t seem to be causing problems.” – Kirsty Craig

“The amount of work that is needed to do nothing. As a planner for one of the biggest Government departments it took us 10 hours on Friday just to check everything was paused, postponed or cancelled.” – Paul Fearn

“How many meetings you need to have about flag protocol.” – Sarah Foster

“There is a honeymoon period with residents before the haters tell you you’re doing everything wrong and are an embarrassment again. Enjoy that period.” – Kate Pratt

“Surprised that all the people who were complaining when they thought they wouldn’t get a Bank Holiday are now the same people complaining that making the day of the funeral a Bank Holiday will cost the country and businesses too much.” – Angela Hamilton

What went well

“Overall, it feels like the implementation of London Bridge plans went well.” – Sian Williams

“What can be achieved relatively smoothly when you have a fully prepared and rehearsed plan.” – Will Lodge

“Overall though it seems to have gone very smoothly and like others I think it reinforces the value of a good, well practised plan.” – Rosie Ryves-Webb

 “I’ve now done three bridges. I can see that lessons have definitely been learned.” – Clare Parker

“I think I would note the value of the comms team in being the eyes and ears of the wider ‘London Bridge’ team on Thursday as the news was coming out of Balmoral.” – Kirsty Groundwater

“My most memorable moment is being told that on being instructed to fly the flag at half mast, those despatched to do so found there was no flag on the pole to put at half mast so they just put the ropes at half mast.” – Andie Jordan

“That no matter how much you plan and practice things will never go 100 per cent to plan and you will always need to think on your feet, stay calm under pressure and adapt.” – Andrea Newman

“We’ll always have an answer for: ‘So, what were you doing when The Queen died?'” – Sharon Dunbar

“Really difficult to pitch it as there seems to be a huge spectrum of emotions and feeling about it all.” – Nykkie Burell 

“I’m surprised and perhaps fearful about how much of what we do can be classed as non-essential, and therefore shelved. I thought everything we did was and is essential. If it isn’t, why do it?” – Brendan McGrath

Join the Conversation


  1. I always enjoy your thoughtful and informative updates, Dan. You might enjoy my podcast which is just my personal reflections of this enormous ‘keep calm and carry on’ moment in time. It would be interesting to see what other people were doing. I particularly enjoyed Sara Hamilton’s comment, that by doing her job, she missed an important moment in time from a personal point of you.
    I always feel for the police, having to have their backs to whatever is actually happening at an event in order to do their job, managing the crowds. It really gives people very interesting perspectives! https://www.buzzsprout.com/1838805/11298055

  2. I’d echo the missing a moment in history comment. I’ve also been struck by how many people have been affected by it and are grieving – like they’ve lost a member of their family. We’re signposting more people to mental health support in the NHS. What could we learn for next time? Not sure I’d change much from our system to be fair. We practiced before the Jubilee (just in case) and that proved invaluable.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply