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Sensemaker: Mourning has broken

Sensemaker: Mourning has broken

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Ukraine’s President Zelensky said Russian occupiers in the Donbas were “in a panic”.  
  • Turkey’s President Erdogan said after extensive discussions with Putin he believed the Russian leader was “willing to end this [war] as soon as possible”.
  • A Baltimore judge overturned Adnan Syed’s murder conviction after the true-crime podcast Serial raised questions over the case. 

Mourning has broken

The Queen’s funeral was an overwhelming success; a choreographic and psychological masterpiece watched by roughly half the world.

Not since Brexit have so many Britons found so much to agree on. Not since 1965 – if then – have so many people descended on London to mourn. Not since the hoplites marched at Marathon have soldiers looked so good. How to make sense of it?

Some suggestions:

Heredity. The British are very comfortable with the dynastic principle. At least 80 per cent of voters have no desire to end the monarchy, never mind that it casts the narrowest possible net for talent and encapsulates a class system politicians of both main parties have spent a century trying to dismantle.

Planning. It was good and it paid off. The Duke of Norfolk spent 20 years on it. By the end 280 broadcasters, senior military and clergy were attending his meetings, which went on for hours. Sky positioned 275 cameras in Westminster Abbey and along the processional routes. The BBC had 213 more. There were no bad angles. Nothing went wrong, and no wonder: money was no object. Much more than the £8.4 million spent on the Queen Mother’s funeral will have been spent on her daughter’s, and whatever the total it will be seen as a good investment because ceremony is part of the British brand. 

PR and self-censorship. In the past fortnight’s praise of duty and service there has been scarcely a murmur about untaxed income, cash for honours, suitcases of Qatari money or the eight-figure sum paid with the late Queen’s help to settle her son’s child sex abuse case. (Also file under: Manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.)

Covid. Commemoration of a 70-year reign and a 96-year life was always going to prod people to reflect on their own lives, loves, losses and mortality – but especially so after 180,000 deaths in varying degrees of lockdown.

Past. Forget for a moment holy oils and Arthurian legend, which will return to royal commentary with next year’s coronation. World War Two was the foundation of the Queen’s legitimacy. She and her parents were intimately associated with the war effort, eclipsing memories of the Abdication Crisis and rumours of Nazi sympathies in high places; forging the mantra of duty that served her (and, royalists say, her country) so well; and ultimately enabling her family to claim a stature it could never have claimed anywhere else in complicated northern Europe. It helped that Britain was on the winning side. 

Present. The world’s liberal democracies are in a proxy war with Russia. Ukrainians are doing the fighting and dying but their allies are one escalation from military deployment. That the 4,000 troops involved in the funeral were not just ceremonial was an essential part of its context (see also note on pallbearers below.)

Future. Will Britain ever put on pageantry like this again? The world stopped to pay attention in case the answer turns out to be no.

Language. The royal brand’s native tongue is English, so it travels.

The Queen. She could have been irritating, fussy or self-pitying. By all accounts she was instead unfailingly polite, sometimes droll and increasingly a unique repository of high-table experience and gossip. The world’s VIPs didn’t have to come to her funeral. They chose to. 

Notes from SW1:

  • The Queen’s lead-lined oak coffin was made to measure 30 years ago.
  • Five of the eight pallbearers who carried it were flown back from active duty in Iraq after her death.
  • The number plates on the Range Rovers following the Queen’s hearse,  MYT1 and MYT2,  are thought to have been ordered by her late husband in homage to her, the mighty one.
  • The man in white gloves tasked with not dropping the Imperial State Crown while removing it from the Queen’s coffin was Mark Appleby, the Crown Jeweller.
  • So far no restitution claims have been lodged for the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond from South Africa, the largest jewel in the crown, but activists there want the 500-carat Cullinan I back and others in India want the $400 million Koh-i-Noor diamond returned from the Tower of London. 
  • The Canadian Mounties at the front of the procession borrowed their horses rather than flying them in. They were, per the Daily Mail, Elizabeth, 17; George (22 and ridden by King Charles at the Trooping of the Colour since 2009); Sir John (14, a charger ridden by Princess Anne); and Darby, 16, on loan from the Musical Ride, a touring equine spectacular.
  • The crowd in the queue to see the lying-in-state, according to researchers from the University of Essex, was 60 per cent Remain.
  • Sandra Oh, star of Killing Eve, was at the funeral as a recipient of the Order of Canada and Valour.
  • Peter Overton and Tracy Grimshaw of Australia’s Channel 9 were unable to identify Liz Truss, the UK’s new prime minister, assuming she and her husband were “minor royals or local dignitaries”.  
  • Flags on UK government buildings went back up to their normal height this morning but those on royal palaces will stay at half-mast till next week.


Blood money
A Swedish billionaire who built his fortune trading commodities with one of Putin’s closest allies has doubled his money in the past year. Torbjörn Törnqvist of the Gunvor Group bought out Gennady Timchenko, a close friend of Putin’s since the early 1990s, one day before Timchenko was sanctioned by the US for his alleged role as an enabler in the annexation of Crimea and eastern Donbas in 2014. By riding the past year’s volatile gas markets Törnqvist has nearly doubled his net worth to $3.7 billion, Bloomberg reports. Timchenko hasn’t done badly either. He sunk the proceeds of his buyout into the Russian gas business and is now worth an estimated $15 billion.


Until last year a good way to get rich was to find something you could buy cheap and sell dear online, make a name for yourself by doing good business on the Amazon third-party marketplace, then get bought. Not any more. Finance for aggregators or “roll-ups” that enjoyed brief bonanza buying up these third-party players has dried up, the FT reports. The thinking behind aggregators was that with dozens of online e-commerce minnows in their pool they could realise economies of scale in marketing and inventory management (aka post and packaging). It would be win-win. Except that investment in the sector has slumped from $12 billion in 2021 to $2 billion so far this year. This doesn’t mean you can’t still do well as a minnow. Just don’t count on being gobbled up.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Formula milk decline
A falling birth rate in China will in turn lead to five years of zero growth for the formula milk sector, says Goldman Sachs, in a warning to businesses and Xi Jinping. Previously, China was a reliable source of growth for the global formula market as the number of middle-class parents looking for high-end baby formulas surged. But new forecasts by the investment bank predict China’s infant population will decline by 7 per cent annually for the next five years – as well as possible overall population decline by the end of this year, with deaths overtaking births. It’s bad news for western international groups like Nestlé, Danone and Abbott who will underperform in sales of formula. But it’s particularly bad news for Xi as his “common prosperity” policies designed to incentivise having children do not appear to be working. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Japan’s typhoon
At least two people have been killed and more than 100 injured as one of the biggest storms in recent decades hits Japan. Typhoon Nanmadol, equivalent to a category four or five hurricane with wind gusts of up to 145mph, destroyed homes and businesses, with bullet trains, flights and ferries cancelled. Nine million people were told to evacuate after it made landfall on the southern island of Kyushu on Sunday night, dumping a month’s worth of rain on parts of the region before crossing to the northeastern coast. Rescue workers are warning of mudslides and flooding and about 140,000 homes are still without power. It’s Japan’s 14th storm of the season – and part of the bigger picture of climate change causing more extreme weather.   


Women, Life, Freedom
“Dear Mahsa, your name will become a symbol,” said an Iranian newspaper’s front page in tribute to 22 year-old Mahsa Amini, who fell into a coma and died after being arrested and reportedly beaten by the country’s morality police in Tehran for breaking strict hijab rules. Her family have denied official reports that she suffered health problems. Iranians are furious about the treatment of women by security forces and suspicious of government denials of wrongdoing. The head of the morality police has reportedly been suspended as protests sweep the country: around 30 people were injured after Amini’s funeral in the northwestern Kurdistan province, where scores of women removed their headscarves; in Tehran, protesters shouted “Women, Life, Freedom,” according to online videos, while the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini has topped 1.63 million mentions on Twitter. President Raisi will be hoping the protests calm down before he speaks at the UN assembly this week. It looks unlikely. 

Did you watch the Queen’s funeral, or travel to London or Windsor to pay tribute? What are your thoughts on the day? What stories have been missed in the royal rush? Please email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com. Thank you.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Jessica Winch.

Photographs Tom Pilston for Tortoise, Getty Images

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