The Queen is not dead: How a ’prank’ BBC tweet sparked alarm

As royal missteps go, they don’t get much worse than this.
WOLVERHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 30: Queen Elizabeth II during an official visit to International Security Printers to view their work on specialist postage stamps on October 30, 2014 in Wolverhampton, England. Richard Stonehouse/Getty Images

As tweets go, they don’t get much bigger. On Tuesday, messages from the account of BBC reporter Ahmen Khawaja appeared to portend bad news:

breaking-in hospital


As news organizations began to jump on this breaking story, word came that it was all a mistake. The Queen, 89, was very much alive.

As the “news” of the Queen’s “death” spread, the BBC reporter hastily issued a tweet:

Currently, the only tweet in Khawaja’s Twitter feed referring to the alarm is this one:

Others quickly followed:

There are two versions of what exactly happened. Perhaps it was a prank, and someone at the journalist’s home accessed her phone and tried to damage her career. Or, as the BBC says, it was a rogue error during a rehearsal for the Queen’s death: “During a technical rehearsal for an obituary, tweets were mistakenly sent from the account of a BBC journalist saying that a member of the royal family had been taken ill. The tweets were swiftly deleted and we apologize for any offence.” News organizations, especially broadcasters, regularly practise for how they will announce and cover the deaths of world leaders.

It’s needed. Although Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had been ailing for months, her death on Easter Saturday in 2002 caught CNN off-guard. While its announcers got the queen consort’s name correct, I couldn’t take my eye off the crawl at the bottom of the screen, which stated that it was Queen Elizabeth II who had died. Even the military components of such funerals aren’t left to chance. In 2002, Operation Tay Bridge swung into effect when the Queen Mother died. Her daughter’s is reportedly Operation London Bridge.

The timing of Khawaja’s tweets also helped to amp up the concern. Buckingham  made this announcement to the media, including the Telegraph: “The Queen this morning attended her annual medical check-up at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London. This was a routine, pre-scheduled appointment, the Queen has now left hospital.” And it comes a week after the Daily Mail talked of the “enormous strain” put on her during the opening of Parliament. There is one thing that is guaranteed: