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Britain's Queen Mother Dies

Aired March 30, 2002 - 15:07   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Another big story that we are covering today, the death of 101-year-old queen mother. She passed away in her sleep. Queen Elizabeth was at her side. Prince Charles, along with his sons, Prince William and Harry, are making their way back to London after vacationing in Switzerland on a ski trip. Queen mother was born Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, August 4, 1900. Her health had been very frail, particularly within the past few months. She had a chest infection. Doctors had been trying to attend to her. And also, within recent months, she had lost her eyesight. She wasn't eating. Her health very frail. Her death did not come unexpectedly.

However, Great Britain is in great mourning. She was so deeply loved there. She was kind of called the favorite grandmother to so many, and many common people in London and throughout Great Britain said that she really was the crown jewel of the royal family.

Our Richard Quest has been following the developments coming out of London there, the reaction of the Great Britain people there upon learning about the death of the queen mother -- Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening once again from London. Yes, it is now just over two hours since Buckingham Palace did put out the form announcement.

Let me read you what they said: "The queen with great sadness has asked for the following announcement to be made. Her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth, died peacefully in her sleep this afternoon at Royal Lodge Windsor. She had become increasingly frail in recent weeks following her bad cough and chest infection, and her condition had deteriorated."

Perhaps the queen, expecting that the end was nigh, was at her mother's bedside, at the final moments when she passed away. The announcement of the queen mother's death was delayed by an hour or two, so that Prince Charles, possibly her favorite grandson, could be informed. Prince Charles, along with Prince William and Prince Harry, have been on holiday at the moment, they are on their annual skiing holiday in Closters (ph). They are now expected to return to Britain in the next 24 hours. Of course, the royal family always traveled with mourning clothes so they are well prepared for such an eventuality.

Now, all afternoon and all evening, I should say, people have been arriving, both Windsor Castle, where the queen mother passed away, and of course at Buckingham Palace. The royal standard as such, the flag of the monarch, still maintains and still flies up full staff. That's normal, of course, because the queen is still on the throne. However, all other royal flags and other flags such as the Union Jack Britain's flag, will be flying at half staff.

Now, some tributes have already been paid. The archbishop of Canterbury has said that the country is more the poorer because this gracious lady has been taken from us. The prime minister, Tony Blair, who is expected to speak very shortly, the prime minister said that she represented decency and courage and come from a different age. And the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, called her death "irreplaceable loss for the country."

The queen -- many bouquets are also being left by visitors outside Buckingham Palace, where the gates have now been cordoned off. And this perhaps sums up the mood of the people, a sadness, a deep sadness, Fredricka, because, one person wrote: "I really don't know what to say. Our nation lost its grandmother today. Through the blitz and bombing when things went wrong, you were the woman who made us strong."

And many people -- more so than perhaps we saw with Princess Margaret, this will be a major royal funeral. Maybe not a state funeral, but a royal funeral nonetheless. The queen mother's coffin is expected to be taken to the Royal Chapel at Windsor Great Park on Sunday. The queen has already said she is not going to Easter services, general Easter services. She and royal family will go to private Easter services at their private chapel.

Fredricka, at the moment, we are waiting to find out more details of course, it will be some hours before we get to know the funeral arrangements. But a great sadness over Britain this evening, as perhaps not putting it too strongly, the nation's grandmother has passed away -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Richard, stick around a moment, because I want to bring in Diana Muriel, who is at Windsor now, and she is on the telephone. Perhaps Diana, you can tell us what kind of preparations are being made at Windsor for what is likely to be a pretty significant royal funeral, with so many turning out in London to say their final goodbyes to the queen mum?

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Fredricka. The royal family are starting to gather here at Windsor Castle. We understand that the princess royal, Princess Ann has arrived with her children, Edward and his wife, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Essex, have also arrived and are with his mother now. Lady Sarah (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with her children. And of course, tomorrow we do expect the arrival of Prince Charles, the prince of Wales, and his brother, the duke of York, Prince Andrew.

So the family gathering here. I am watching policeman taking armfuls of bouquets into the confines of the great castle here. I understand they are going to be taken to Georgia's Chapel, which lies just behind the gates where I am standing. As Richard was saying, a very somber mood here outside of the castle; many more people now starting to turn up, bringing their children. Everyone very quiet, including the children, standing in great sadness to pay their respect to a very great lady.

The details of the funeral have not yet been released. There is an understanding among the reporters here, though, that we can expect her body, which will be taken to the Chapel of All Saints at Windsor Great Park tomorrow morning, to lie there for about five days, and then it will be taken possibly to Westminster Cathedral, and it's possible that she will be given a large ceremonial state funeral. There are various grades, if you like, of state funerals, and it's likely to be the biggest that's possible. It's not yet confirmed, though, at this stage, that that is in fact what will happen.

At the moment, though, the royal family gathering here. The queen here was by her bed when she died at 3:15 this afternoon, she is being comforted by two of her children at least. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: Diana, she will be buried, this being made public, she will be buried next to her husband, correct?

MURIEL: That's possible. Again, no final details have been released. It is something that we could expect to happen. But we don't know for sure at this stage, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Diana Muriel, thanks very much for joining us on the phone from Windsor Castle, as well as Richard Quest, also from London, both of you, if you could, don't go too far, because we will probably be going back to you again.

Once again, 101-year-old queen mother has died in London earlier today. Queen Elizabeth II was at her side, and we are going to take a break and we will be right back with continued coverage.


WHITFIELD: Prime Minister Tony Blair responding now to the death this morning of 101-year-old queen mum in London. Let's go to him now.

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: ... for the best part of a century. Never more so than in the blitz when she insisted on staying in London, and she represented not just her own spirit, but the spirit of the British people in those dark times.

And she was not just loved and revered by the British people, but throughout the world she was held in the most enormous affection and respect. And yet, quite apart from her status and her rank, she was a remarkable person in her own right. She had great character, integrity, extraordinary zest for life, interests in all things and people, and this profound sense of duty and service. Above all else, enhanced I think in part I think by a deep religious conviction, she had this selfless devotion to duty.

That's what she believed in. That's how she lived her life. And that is how I believe and hope she will be remembered.

WHITFIELD: More now on the life and legacy of the queen mother of England, now from Richard Blystone.


RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was Great Britain's great grandmother. A confection of big hats and winsome dresses, and a smile -- a smile that could disarm an army or draw admirers to stand for hours at her gate in hopes of a glimpse. Or better still, a word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's the most marvelous person in the world. I really do. She means more to me than anyone else in the world.

BLYSTONE: All to spite the fact that this daughter of an earl was still, by the fine print of royal protocol, born a commoner. Despite that, or because of it...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She brought a particular kind of charm and public appeal, the like of which no authentic member of the royal family ever quite seems to have had.

BLYSTONE: But there was more than that to the girl from Scotland who married the prince, whom fate would make King George VI.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In all, she was a very strong-willed extremely strong woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has been an extremely shrewd and tough operator.

BLYSTONE: Born at the dawn of the 20th century, she reshaped the British monarchy to fit it. And as the century waned, she lived to see her handy work seemingly going up in smoke. Her daughter and grandchildren plagued by scandal and divorce, overshadowed by the life and death of Princess Diana.

When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the king's second son in 1923 neither expected nor wanted to move into Buckingham Palace. Then, in a burst of scandal, King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the American divorcee Wallace Simpson, and left the thrown to his shy, stammering younger brother. For the first time in centuries, Britain's queen consort was not of royal blood, was British and had married her husband for love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was deeply in love with him, but greatly resented the fact that he had been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And it was her more than anyone that steered him into being the king that we had during the war and a very popular man.

BLYSTONE: She gave heart not only to the king, touring bombed out areas of London during Nazi Germany's blitz at the beginning of World War II. And after bombs hit her own home, she was glad, she said, because now she could look East End Londoners in the face. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of her reaction against the abdication process was a great development in the sense of duty. That part of being a monarch is to take on your shoulders a huge responsibility. And she instilled that in the queen and her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Prince Charles.

BLYSTONE: And she set out to revamp the concept of the royal family and its image. She sensed that the people wanted family monarchy, working monarchy, reassuring monarchy. She embarked on the perilous tightrope walk between popularity and pop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there was that planned balance between the regal side of the monarchy and the human side. And I think more than anyone else she actually captured that.

BLYSTONE: She raised expectations that were hard to match.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She really set the scene for the typical royal marriage in this century. And I think our shock and sort of disbelief at the awful matrimony and mess that the royal family got itself into is partly because for a long time we had been brought up with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the queen mother promulgated.

BLYSTONE: When King George died in 1952, she had been queen consort for only 16 years. She was to be queen mother for two generations, while Britain declined from its imperial might. Most living Britons can't remember when the queen mum wasn't there year in, year out, in good times and worst times. The most beloved of the royals; the last figurehead from the days of their glory. As the British mourn her, they are mourning themselves.

Richard Blystone, CNN, London.


WHITFIELD: It is believed the body of the queen mother will be taken to All Saints for five days to lie in state as early as tomorrow, then possibly to the Westminster Cathedral for a ceremonial funeral. Queen mother dead at 101.




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