ROBERT HARDMAN: None will forget where we were when we heard this news

ROBERT HARDMAN: None of us will forget where we were when we heard this unthinkable yet inevitable news

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She led her people for longer than most of us have been alive. She was the voice and face of our nation and many others; our anchor and indefatigable constant through seven decades of triumph and adversity.

As of last night, we must now confront both the unthinkable and the inevitable: life without Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning, longest-lived monarch in our history.

The end of the second Elizabethan age and the 40th reign since the Norman Conquest was announced at half-past six in a brief, black-bordered statement from Buckingham Palace.

‘The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,’ it stated. ‘The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.’ Large — and, in many cases, tearful — crowds quickly started forming outside Buckingham Palace last night as the new King announced his regnal name — Charles III.

The tragic news was announced at half-past six in a brief, black-bordered statement from Buckingham Palace

All four of the Queen’s children were at Balmoral, together with the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke of Sussex arrived later.

The King led the nation in mourning with a written tribute minutes afterwards. ‘We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother,’ he said. ‘During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which The Queen was so widely held.’

Prime Minister Liz Truss echoed his words: ‘Her life of service stretched beyond most of our living memories… She’s touched the lives of millions around the world.’

She concluded with the first public utterance of the words last proclaimed by a wartime generation: ‘God save The King.’

From every palace and state residence around the world came properly heartfelt tributes. These were no mere formalities.

Many were from nations which did not even exist in their present form when she came to the throne in 1952. Germany was two nations back then, Ukraine a province of the Soviet Union.

The country’s longest reigning Monarch died ‘peacefully today, aged 96, at the Balmoral Estate, surrounded by her family. Her death sparked an immediate and huge outpouring of emotion, with thousands of mourners gathering outside the gates of Buckingham Palace this evening (pictured)

President Biden saluted ‘the first British monarch to whom people all around the world could feel a personal and immediate connection — whether they heard her on the radio as a young princess… or gathered around their televisions for her coronation.’ Mr Biden was the 14th U.S. president whom she had met and known. No one else, in America or anywhere else, has ever known 14 presidents. It is unlikely that anyone else ever will.

The speed of the Queen’s decline took her family and the nation by surprise, following her animated appearance at Tuesday’s meeting to appoint her new Prime Minister.

However, the monarch had been unable to attend Wednesday’s virtual Privy Council meeting, one of just a handful of duties that she had not delegated to the former Prince of Wales in recent months.

The very last act of the Queen’s grandfather, George V, had been to hold a Privy Council meeting from his deathbed at Sandringham in January 1936. That the Queen was unable to do the same, via video link, on Wednesday was a cause for great concern.

Yesterday morning brought an alarming and unprecedented medical bulletin from Buckingham Palace — reporting that ‘concerned’ doctors had placed the Queen under ‘medical supervision’.

This was followed by a steady stream of royal arrivals at the family’s Highland residence.

It was very clear that the Royal Family had been urged to hurry to the Queen’s bedside. On her rare trips to hospital in the past, family members would be pointedly urged to keep visits to a minimum. Not on this occasion.

People react as they gather outside Buckingham Palace in central London after it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II has died

Similarly, royal officials had always erred on the side of caution, playing down unwarranted speculation about any worsening development.

Within hours, however, the new Prime Minister, the last person outside the Royal Family and Royal Household to see the Queen, issued a statement which underlined the gravity of the situation: ‘My thoughts — and the thoughts of people across our United Kingdom — are with Her Majesty The Queen and her family at this time.’

As religious leaders of all denominations urged those of any faith to pray for the monarch, world leaders inundated the airwaves with messages of support.

There was, at least, one positive to be drawn from the Palace statement. ‘The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral,’ it said. Certainly, there was no place where she would have felt more comfortable than in her Highland home.

We will all remember where we were when we heard last night’s news. For we have lost one of the greats. Most of us have known no other.

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