2022 Notebook: Britain’s queen exits, and a new era awaits
THE BACKGROUND: Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8 after a 70-year reign over the United Kingdom. She left behind generations of subjects — many of whom had never known any other monarch.
The death and funeral, and the ascent of King Charles III, played out over more than a week, during which everything about the queen and the royal family was discussed — her role in society, the role of the monarchy, the crown’s uneasy legacy of colonialism.
Here, some Associated Press journalists involved in the coverage reflect on the story and their own experiences covering it.
DANICA KIRKA, AP correspondent in London for 16 years:
The queen was notable not just for her longevity, but because of the things that she did during her time as monarch. And people saw her doing everything from opening sewage plants to cutting ribbons at hospitals — people really saw her as sort of the walking embodiment of a nation. With her death, you lost not just her, but it was the end of an era of World War II veterans, the end of empire, it was just a lot of strands involved. You just sort of realized that the country was trying to get on a new path. And it’s really, really not going to be easy. Because the truth is that people didn’t want to complain about anything because of her long service. A lot of things about the monarchy just kind of didn’t get addressed — inclusiveness, racism, all these questions that are coming out. How big of a monarchy did does Britain want? What’s it going to be like? Can it still serve a multicultural society? All these really big questions weren’t really addressed in a lot of detail.
When I first came here, I was invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party. It’s one of these great big events, with a big tent at the palace, and people walk around with tea cups and little chocolates with crowns placed on them. The people who were there were people like librarians who had created decimal systems to suit their public libraries, and soccer coaches, and others who had done service to the community. We were all standing in the hot sun; it was really warm that day, and we’re talking about the quality of the tea and the loveliness of the cucumber sandwiches.
And then the queen came, wearing a great big hat and a big floral dress. And all the guests, the soldiers who had done derring-do, and the librarians with their decimal system, everyone was just like “Oh, my gosh, it’s the queen.” And it just sort of dawned on me that she was their country saying thank you: “Thank you for staying out in the mud and coaching 10-year-olds, thank you for saving your comrades in a in a ditch in Afghanistan. I’m the person in the country who’s here to say thank you for what you’ve done.” There wasn’t anyone else doing that for most of their lives. This was the only person who ever embodied their country for them. So there’s, I think, even now, a sense of loss. That maternal figure was all of a sudden gone.
There’s just this kind of void that is very difficult for the rest of the monarchy to fill. But the one thing about monarchy is that it’s about succession. You have Charles there, you know that the process is being followed. Charles has a really enormous shoes to fill. So, we’ll see how he does this.
TONY HICKS, AP’s London-based deputy director for photography:
The first thing was, you obviously have to think of, “Where do you go?” There had been many discussions about that in the past — about, you know, “What if she dies here? What if she dies there?” And one of them had always been what if she dies in Balmoral, which, as you know, is like a gated community. You can only just about see the castle in the distance from the from the public highway. And Balmoral isn’t close. You’re hours away.
For the photographers, you wanted a fairly good mix of specialists and skills roles. So you know, for the positions where you know that someone needs to get sharp photos with a long, long lens, you’re probably looking at someone who actually does sports, who is used to, you know, nailing that key moment. Creativity is not absolute — the most important thing is getting what happens in front of you. And then you’re going to have people that are going to be sort of either mingling with the crowd and trying to get across the emotion of the events, because there was a lot of emotion. It was a real mixture of abilities and specializations and talents.
The thing that really stood out for me was the in-between bit — the queue. I think it stretched for eight miles — it was something unbelievable, people queuing down past Tower Bridge through the night. There was a sense of community and camaraderie amongst the people, and all sorts of people from all different walks of life, not just the usual royalists you see at these events. It was it was a massive cross section of society.
There was also the enormity of it — the fact that we will never see anything like this again. And I think also the enormity of the undertaking we took to actually make sure that event went well. You know, 19, 20-plus photographers and 20 editors. It was it was a huge, huge undertaking. One of those ones you can only really mess up and we didn’t, so I take I take a lot of pride and pleasure in how it went.
SAMYA KULLAB, Baghdad correspondent on assignment in London after the queen’s death:
My entire journalism career has been focused in the Middle East. And it’s been very much about acting as a bridge from the Middle East to the audience based in the West. So that’s sort of how I approached this assignment: How can I be a bridge between two things that I know and two things that are, you know, from two places that maybe misunderstand each other? My immediate thought was, how can I add to the narrative what are we not covering right now? What are we not looking at; whose voices aren’t being included? I grew up in a diaspora community in Canada, and I immediately thought about how they might see this. So I started researching different diaspora communities, seeing how they’re kind of reacting, not reacting. I kind of went from there.
One of the other assignments I did was standing in line to see the queen lying in state. Everyone has a moment once you actually enter the hall, you have a few seconds to just say something. A lot of people bow. And when it was my turn, I thought, “Oh, wait, what am I supposed to say? What does this moment really mean to me?” And I remember just seeing the crown. The one of the key jewels is the Kohinoor. And I grew up listening to stories about that jewel, and I was staring at it in that moment, and I just thought about all of those stories that I’ve heard from my aunts, from my grandmother, about, you know, what that jewel had meant, and I just thought it was so amazing — all of that history that we are all a part of in a different way.
2022 Notebooks: https://apnews.com/hub/reporters-notebook