The photo of Queen Elizabeth II sitting alone at her husband’s funeral last year because of pandemic rules broke hearts around the world. What we didn’t known until now is that, at the moment it was taken, the people who created those laws were hungover from a party which had raged into the early hours of that morning.
The humiliation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government has been accused of breaking lockdown rules repeatedly to get drunk together, appeared complete Friday when his spokesman confirmed that the PM’s office has apologized to the queen for a lockdown-breaking party that took place hours before she sat by herself at Prince Philip’s funeral in April.
To make matters worse, Britain was in a period of public mourning at the time. Flags were at half-staff on government buildings, including Downing Street, where the party was rocking. Philip’s coffin was lying in a private chapel in Windsor Castle.
An explosive report from The Daily Telegraph on Thursday night exposed the gathering for the first time. It said a farewell party was held for Johnson’s then director of communications at 10 Downing Street—the PM’s official residence and office—on April 16. Unlike previous gatherings, it’s reported that Johnson was not in attendance for the party.
It sounds like it was a wild night. It stretched “well beyond midnight,” according to the report, and staffers are said to have drunk to excess and danced to music blaring out of a laptop. At one point, a staffer is alleged to have popped out to a nearby store with a suitcase which they filled up with bottles of wine before returning to carry on with the party.
When the gathering spilled out to the Downing Street garden, one unnamed Downing Street figure is said to have plonked himself down onto a swing belonging to Johnson’s son, Wilfred, and broke it.
This all took place at a time of strict lockdown rules. The British government’s own guidance in place at the time read: “You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”
When the morning came, the Queen attended the funeral of her husband of 73 years, and, in keeping with the rules at the time, she sat by herself. The image of her peeking out from under a black mask while surrounded by empty seats went on to become the defining image of the day.
Speaking Friday, after the Telegraph report was published, the PM’s spokesman said it was “deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning” and confirmed that Downing Street had been in touch with Buckingham Palace to apologize for what happened.
After the apology, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, reiterated his calls for Johnson to step down. “An apology isn’t the only thing the prime minister should be offering the palace today,” he said in statement. “Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign.”
Earlier this week, Johnson was forced to apologize for attending a separate drinks party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, when his government was still imposing the first coronavirus lockdown.