Government officials delved into the archives of Queen Victoria’s funeral to help plan the state occasion for Queen Elizabeth, which will be the biggest international event the UK has ever staged, it emerged last night.
A team of around 100 civil servants in the Cabinet Office is working on Operation London Bridge, with thousands more in supporting roles, to ensure this week’s lying-in-state and Monday’s state funeral go to plan.
A smaller core of the “Bridges” team has been working on the operation for years, including some who have now retired but returned to Whitehall last week to help see the plans implemented.
Since the Queen’s death last Thursday, the operations centre has been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with civil servants working shift patterns to implement the decades-long planning.
Some 500 kings, queens, emperors and other foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the Queen’s state funeral.
Besides the 100 central planning team, a further 150 civil servants from other government departments are working on Operation London Bridge. Another 300 civil servants have volunteered to be marshals along the queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state, offering “wayfaring and boxes of tissues”, a source said.
The queue has also been supported by 140 British Red Cross volunteers, 120 Scouts and 600 collectively from the Salvation Army, Samaritans and St John’s Ambulance. Some 20,000 police officer shifts, from the Met and other forces, have been involved in operations, including enforcing road closures and policing the journey of the Queen’s coffin from RAF Northolt back to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday and her procession to Westminster Hall on Wednesday.
Separate operational cells inside the Cabinet Office have been working on different aspects of the funeral and events leading up to it, including protocol, communications and IT support.
To help plan the funeral, officials went through the archives of previous state occasions, including Sir Winston Churchill’s state funeral in 1965 and Queen Victoria’s in 1901.
The core Bridges team has been feeding into the Government’s top secret National Situation Centre. Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has been the minister in charge of overseeing the implementation of Operation London Bridge, while the plans have been led by Sarah Healey, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
A government source said: “Everybody involved in this in the Civil Service sees it as an absolute privilege, it’s a genuine honour to be involved.
“Planning has been going on for years for this – there are people that otherwise might have moved on in their roles that have stayed in their roles because of the privilege that it is to support the planning for this.”
“There were quite a lot of people who worked on this in previous roles, who the moment that we heard the news immediately volunteered to come back.”
“The funeral is the largest international event that the UK has hosted in decades, possibly ever. Around 500 dignitaries from across the world are expected to attend.”