After 70 years in line for the throne, and the oldest Monarchical promotion in British history, this weekend Charles officially became King of The United Kingdom. His Coronation weekend was widely publicised and internationally broadcasted, with an ancient service in Westminster Abbey, a Coronation concert in Windsor and series of street parties across the nation heralding in the start of this new reign.
Also accompanying the momentous weekend was a necessary amount of trepidation from the British public, as various demographics voiced their concerns on social media, across the nation and in the streets of London, as the King was crowned.
Such trepidation is particularly understandable given the vast global change that has occurred since the country welcomed its last monarch, Queen Elizabeth the 2nd. Beyond Charles’ and Camilla’s waning popularity and complex history, are additional feelings of ill will towards the modern monarchy. Namely: ongoing outdatedness and a problematic past, an out of touch relationship with supposed subjects, and most recently an expensive and lavish weekend funded by tax payer pounds… in a ‘cost of living’ crisis.
As a result, the weekend as a whole was one of tension and unease, both online and hidden within the often visceral reactions of those of the British public who did choose to participate or protest the promotion.
Traversing my way to the city centre Mall early on Saturday morning, a note of dulled anticipation hung in the air. Some travellers paused for photos of Buckingham Palace or the Union Jacks that adorned the streets, but most royal watchers seemed more intent on dutifully queueing up for their morning cup of tea. Most notable to me was the absence of protestors in this area. There was neither a placard nor a ‘not my king’ shirt to be seen – a phenomenon I later learned was because they had been designated to Trafalgar Square to avoid showing such disagreement on the international broadcast.
Later, as reports of arrests came out – including notable King protestor and former UoY student Patrick Thelwell who was briefly arrested using facial recognition technology on ‘suspicion of carrying eggs’ – it became evident that whatever ‘security measures’ were being employed, they had a particular target in mind. The suppression of freedom of speech and the voices of young anti-monarchists is necessary point of concern, regardless of your thoughts on their protest methods or the monarchy itself, and should remain a vital part of our historic account of the day.
Returning to the more celebratory side of the Mall, where monarchists, patriots and general royal watchers gathered to witness history in the making, the vibe was still surprisingly distinct. It was certainly less celebratory than one might expect given the sea of Union Jacks filing in to St James’s Park. Sure, part of this dulled atmosphere could originate in the exhaustion of the campers and early morning arrivals, and the gradual rainfall – still, something didn’t feel right. One watcher was more impressed by the event’s promptness: “There we go, bang on time.”
As a few picnickers popped champagne and adjusted flags, most dutifully strained at the Abbey broadcast, before racing off to find a spot along the fence to witness the actual passing of the gold encrusted carriage (an oddly lavish gift from Australia).
As the Crown touched the new King’s hair, there was some enthusiasm; a hug here, a champagne pop there. But more energetic were the boos Boris Johnson’s earlier arrival received, or the roar of laughter at the commentator’s “You may remember Prime Minister for a brief time, Liz Truss.” Prince George’s role as Page of Honour saw a swirl of ‘awws’, while ‘God Save the King’ left a smattering of applause in its wake.
Camilla’s crowning largely saw a dispensing of the crowd, many of whom thought the event was already over, while others offered visible confusion “Can anyone explain why she’s also being crowned Queen?” Although I was just impressed she didn’t receive any boos given her, shall we say, ‘complex’ journey to the throne.
But on the whole, the event and the atmosphere of even the monarchy’s biggest fans was less celebratory and vastly less magical than past Jubilees or the Queen’s October funeral. While creative Union Jack outfits certainly offered an element of fun, there was an ingrained sense of duty amongst a crowd more intent on snapping the required coach picture, offering the required wave, echoing the required ‘God Save the King’ than actually celebrating the promotion of Charles.
Indifference parading as reverance seemed to be the flavour of the morning. Or maybe it was just the unfortunate and miserable downpour of London rain?
As the ancient religious ceremony ended and the more familiar celebrations began, the streets did liven up. The tents, chairs and picnic baskets were hastily abandoned along the Mall as the gates opened and 100 000s of royal watchers sprinted to reach the iconic balcony moment and fly by. Cameras gleefully captured the frantic waves of running and excitement, before the crowd joined the leading polices’ purposeful ‘halt’/’forward’ procession, imitating with a well-humoured collective sense of anticipation. One group of royal sprinters yelled “I can’t believe we are all getting to the front” whilst racing past me, eager to secure that front row view of the new King. The space around Buckingham Palace swelled with people as, once again, the Royal Family orchestrated their ‘perfect’ photo of a city adorned with adoring subjects.
The family waved, the crowds cheered, the Red Arrows roared past, and Prince Louis invented his own royal clap, to the subsequent joy of the internet. A surprising encore from symbolically robe-laden Charles and Camilla ended the impromptu party eventually, and the Union Jack adorned fans wandered off to tube stations, media interviews and to investigate the various TV news sets lining the area. “That’s Trevor McDonald, oh I like him!” was heard echoing again and again as people crammed around the fence in hopes of appearing in the background of the BBC set. And I had just never realised that Trevor had so many dedicated fans!
As I turned to make my own exit from the chaos of Belgravia, I ran headfirst into a Sky News interview of one committed Union Jack enthusiast with an enormous flag, and well … I was just impressed he managed to transport such a show of patriotism through London.
So, streets littered, phone service back on, media requirements fulfilled, Coronation sort-of celebrated; the historic London centre emptied once more as hundreds of thousands attempted to navigate long Tube queues and for some, day-long journeys home. One participant headed straight for the airport to reach America in time for his son’s 4th birthday; the much reported on Prince Harry, who performed his duty remarkably subtly, in my opinion. Just as the more colourful crowds of London did.
Next up in the weekend of a King’s Coronation was the Concert at Windsor Castle – an evening of international popstars and Charles specific segments presented to an audience of lottery winners, charity honourees, celebrities and the much watched Royal Box.
Charles and Camilla. Will and Kate and George and Charlotte. And, of course, Rishi Sunak. All in attendance in the much watched royal box. However, much to the world’s disappointment, everyone’s favourite royal Louis was in bed (although I’m not sure how he slept just miles away with all that noise).
The concert was clearly more enthusiastic than the preceding Coronation, with actual stars like Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Take That turning up to entertain the crowd. Despite the 2.5 hour trek through security to make it inside and excessive queues for trains home afterwards, a concert with a castle backdrop was delightfully more magical and relaxed. Even if it was just a well-constructed remake of last year’s Jubilee Concert, albeit with different musical acts and Charlesian specificity. A Coronation Choir, Commonwealth Choir, a Shakespeare performance (starring Ncuti Gatwa), and appearances from Tom Cruise, Winnie the Pooh, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog created a vibrant energy that bristled cheerfully above the Pimm’s-filled, flag-waving audience.
The flags and colour changing bracelets, along with stunning light displays, drones and an irreplaceable backdrop orchestrated an unmissable visual cacophony of celebration; at least for those who could look past their own conflicting feelings on monarchical rule.
The ‘All Night Long’ stamina of Lionel. The explosive ‘Roar’ of Katy. The united opera of Andrea Bocelli and Sir Bryn Terfel. The desperate cries of the natural world’s ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’. As a whole the Concert at the Castle blended enough relatable and iconic moments for even the most anti-monarchical of internet algorithms to run with, whilst the nation and the world continually determine the legacy of this necessarily bizarre moment in time.
Obviously there remains an element of PR and promotion to all aspects of the Coronation, and it wasn’t surprising to see ‘Did You Know’ segments about the new rulers, straining to make Charles and Camilla seem vaguely relatable to a British public and Commonwealth of Nations increasingly ‘over’ the royal lust of one rich family. Once again the monarchical institution does seem to forget their biggest PR weapon remains the innocent, energetic 5-year-old who was relegated to his bedroom, when he could have been delightfully bouncing on granddad’s knee to adoring crowds – if only they weren’t so afraid of his brimming uniqueness.
Of course, the concert was after his bedtime and it clearly isn’t fair to subject children to hours of old and boring performers (unless you’re the heir and the spare); although maybe this is just one more hint of the outdated understandings and older target audience of British rulers, law makers and event organisers.
As my young neighbours said of the coronation, “It was boring!”. Not a particularly good start for a line-up of Kings who will so desperately rely on the ongoing fandom of these younger generations if they are to survive this next phase of British history.
So how will such history books, or more likely the archives of Instagram, remember this long-awaited Coronation weekend? Well, it seems the promotion of Charles created more dramatic questions than answers:
Will the change from Elizabethan to Carolean be recalled as a bitter mistake, where the rule of law and whiffs of colonialism snuffed out the free speech of those desperate to fight for an end to a unappetising, unacceptable rule?
Will the flag-waving of confused but dutiful monarchists and the ‘red, white, blue’ of Union Jack wearers saturate the remaining flickers of ‘Not My King’ yellow in the photo albums of history?
Will the British children’s current shrugs of indifference dictate the evolving thoughts of future generations as we continue walking through the family tree of future heirs?
Or will the dramatic promotion of a son to his mother’s old job simply exist as a day where some people cared vehemently and others did not? It seems that much of the nation found better uses for their time while London’s pomp and pageantry symbolised the continued existence of an outdated monarchy, whether they like it or not.
Typically, only time will tell which ongoing question the reign of ‘His Majesty King Charles III’ will confirm. But based on the dulled, dutiful, demeaned, desperate and for some, drunken, depictions of London and Windsor’s Coronation participants, it seems that even Britain herself can’t predict the future of King Charles 3.0.
As one royal watcher quite eloquently put it last Saturday, “He’s carrying a lot of weight in that crown.”