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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
The nation's fragile minutes
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Chantelle and Preston
News that rocked the nation, and no leader to channel public sentiment
For 68 rudder-less minutes on Wednesday, the UK had no prime minister, it seemed. So did anything happen that could have rocked the country?

When Tony Blair left Buckingham Palace at 1340 BST the chauffeur-driven, armour-plated limousine which had taken him there was his no longer.

Instead, Pegasus, as the official carriage for the First Lord of the Treasury is affectionately known, stayed at the palace to await its new master as Mr Blair slunk off in a more humble motor.

In the same way that Mr Blair was without his trusty steed, having tendered his resignation to the Queen, so the country appeared to be somewhat exposed.

Security chiefs must have had their fingers crossed that nothing would happen to threaten national security before the succession was complete.

It was thought the UK would only be leader-less for the few minutes it took Gordon Brown to drive from the Treasury to Buckingham Palace and accept the offer he'd been dreaming about all his life.

1340: Blair leaves the palace
1356: Boy, 10, charged with bringing knife to school
1407: McDonald's announces new 'ethical' coffee
1424: Man describes being attacked by buzzard
1424: Chantelle - Preston split
1445: Tesco to axe 400 jobs
1446: Queen's message to flood victims
But as it turned out, the prime minister-in-waiting spent nearly an hour enjoying his audience with the Queen, before clambering into Pegasus as the UK's 52nd prime minister.

And during that time, the kind of news everyone had been dreading broke with bizarre timing.

The event was given the highest status of urgency by the Press Association as it flashed up on screens in newsrooms across the country at 1424 BST.

Chantelle and Preston had split.

The first couple of reality TV, who'd met in front of millions on the set of Celebrity Big Brother, were breaking up after 10 months of marriage.

"After much soul-searching and tearful discussions we have sadly decided to end our marriage," they said in a joint statement, which was accompanied by an insistence that their lucrative relationship was genuine.

Buzzard attack

Who would console the nation in its hour of need?

A bad day... for at least one McDonald's press officer
Clearly the UK needed a reassurance of "People's Princess" proportions but the man best equipped to give it was busy trying to find a seat on an inter-city full of reporters to Newcastle.

There was more bad news to come before Mr Brown emerged from the palace at 1448 BST and put the country back on an even keel once more.

A man described being attacked by a buzzard in Aberdeenshire. This came 17 minutes after McDonald's announced its plans to sell the "most ethical" coffee on the High Street. Talk about a bad day to bury good news.

There were some more sobering events, including news that Tesco was to shed up to 400 jobs at a distribution centre in Milton Keynes.

And in a timely intervention which reminded the country its leaders are not only to be found in Downing Street, the Queen issued a message, presumably before her latest flurry of guests, to those affected by the floods.

So a lot can happen in an hour. But if those 68 minutes seemed to drag, imagine the tortuous wait of 56 days between the Earl of Wilmington's death and the appointment of Henry Pelham, in 1743.

And if there had arisen an issue of national security during these moments, who would have taken the reins?

Tony Blair, says constitutional expert Lord St John of Fawsley, because technically he becomes acting-prime minister until his successor formally accepts the post.

But there's no winged horse for an acting prime minister.

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