Late Wednesday night, reports of a late-night meeting at Buckingham Palace spurred a frenzy of tweets regarding the aged consort of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip. Had he shuffled off this mortal coil? Nope. But he is stepping down from his gig as, as he describes it, “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler.”
It started, of course, with the Daily Mail, which reported that there was some sort of all-hands meeting scheduled for royal staffers. “Royal staff called to Buckingham Palace for ‘emergency meeting,’” the tabloid blasted its story on Twitter. They didn’t say what would be announced, and they didn’t say anybody had died. But the palace wouldn’t release any news until 8 a.m., London time, leaving a vacuum. And, of course, an information vacuum lends itself to social media spread rumors like standing water breeds mosquitoes.
Twitter kicked into high gear, flooding with speculation and dismissals of that speculation. The Independent says that French outlets began reporting that Prince Philip had died, though the New Zealand Herald suggested that may have been nothing more than a Twitter rumor, too. The Sun went ahead and published an obit with the headline “Prince Philip dead at 95, how did the Duke of Edinburgh die, etc etc.” Oops!
But the tide turned, thanks to the diligence of reporters in New Zealand. TVNZ got the palace spokesperson on the phone—at 4 a.m. UK time, in case you ever feel irritated about the off-hours demands of your job—who informed them sternly: “You could safely assume the Queen and Prince Philip are not dead.” The New Zealand Herald picked up the story:
Shortly thereafter the Canadians weighed in, with a CTV producer on Twitter also reporting from palace sources that both Queen and consort were still among the living. That was confirmation from enough of the Commonwealth that this royal watcher stopped frantically sending passages of Sally Bedell Smith’s biography of Queen Elizabeth II to night blogger Megan Reynolds and went to bed. At some point thereafter, the almighty BBC chimed in, to tamp down the rampant rumors.
And finally, this morning, the palace announced that Prince Philip would be retiring from his royal duties. “His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh has decided that he will no longer carry out public engagements from the autumn of this year. In taking this decision, the duke has the full support of the queen,” said Buckingham Palace in a statement, reported NBC News.
So ends the era of England’s snarky grandfather casually making entertainingly rude and but also sometimes breathtakingly offensive remarks. From now on, any “gaffes” will be on his own time.
Meanwhile the Daily Mail is outright gloating. And the world spins onward!