On Saturday 6th May I was on the Mall to witness, live, the coronation procession of King Charles lll. It rained, my back and feet hurt from all the standing and I got separated from friends but it was an incredible, once in a lifetime, experience.
Prince Charles became heir apparent to the British throne aged 3. He is the longest serving Prince of Wales in British history. Said to be a man steeped in the history of his family and heritage he has admitted he ‘enjoys ceremonies’.
So, the idea that, after a 70 year wait, his coronation would be barely worthy of note was always an absurd one. Yet, until the final week, you could have been forgiven for thinking the state ceremony at Westminster Abbey was only going to be a little grander than a barbecue in a back garden.
Palace and Media build up
Buckingham Palace moved at its own sedate pace in its planning, only disclosing details of the ceremony when it was ready. 24/7 media, meanwhile, demands constant information which it can convert it into drama, sensationalism and controversy to fill its pages and schedules. The palace didn’t provide it, focusing, instead on organising an historical event.
So, the media build-up to the biggest state occasion in the country, in 70 years, was lukewarm, speculative, often inaccurate and largely negative.
The palace approach paid off. While the media wore itself out with speculation based on gossip from ubiquitous, unreliable and contradictory ‘sources’ the palace peaked at the right time.
Two million people are estimated to have been out celebrating over the weekend. Coronation memorabilia flew off the shelves, tourists from the rest of the country and abroad poured into London, homes, shops and town centres were decorated with Union Jacks, business boomed to the tune of estimated billions. The UK was the centre of global attention for the third time in a year, following the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022 and her funeral in September.
As one man, on the Mall, said to me, “No other monarchy anywhere or head of state can draw these kind of crowds from around the world. Would British people, for example, go to Japan for the crowning of their emperor? “
The answer is no.
The British monarchy is the most famous in the world. During her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth ll was simply the Queen. Not ‘a’ queen, but THE Queen.
As I expected, despite the damp media buildup, King Charles delivered.
Long after the naysayers are forgotten, people will be left with the memory of the splendour, the pageantry, the beauty, the tradition, the history, the Pomp and circumstance, the sheer awesome spectacle that Britain does at Olympian levels of brilliance.
And God knows we need it in this current era of mediocrity.
There has been much faux handwringing about the cost of the coronation. It was the first such event in 70 years. It has brought in over 10 times as much in revenue. It was a diplomatic triumph, bringing several hundred world leaders to London.
By comparison, the American presidential inauguration is held every four years and costs twice as much.
Can you name three truly memorable moments from any of the many presidential inaugurations held in your lifetime?
I bet most people would be hard pushed to think of one. Compare that to the goosebump moments of the crowning of a Monarch, the Pledge of allegiance from peers or (this time, Prince William, hearing the national anthem sung by a a choir and packed congregation.
With the coronation, from the likes of Fortnum and Mason to small stall holders selling souvenirs and memorabilia, there were beaming faces. The Platinum Jubilee boosted business after the dire losses of Covid lockdown and now the Coronation has been a godsend for Airlines, hotels, public transport, restaurants, cafes, shops and a myriad other service providers. Television networks, journalists, influencers, all benefit from a once-in-a-lifetime event. (At a tiny level a newspaper bought the contents of two of my videos).
Joy and community
Then there is the unquantifiable joy the event brought to millions who watched it live, on the streets, on television at home or in public places in the company of friends, family and neighbours.
How many other events truly bring us together these days?
On Sunday, I popped into a street party where I met a woman who told me she had waited on the Mall to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. She had loved seeing it all again, the day before, on television. The happy memories it had brought back to her, of her youth, are priceless.
Similarly, lawyer friends, inspired by my videos of the buildup to the coronation, took their children to the parks with large screens to capture some of the wonderful atmosphere. They later sent me photos of those children having a blast. What great, lifelong memories for those children.
The gold coach, the uniforms, the horses, the livery, the robes, the crowns, this was visually a magical fairytale come to life, it was colour and vibrancy that will linger long in the memory, well after politics is forgotten.
Charities and good causes
The coronation has brought even more attention to the charity work of the Royal family, including the Prince’s trust set up by Prince Charles in his twenties. The trust has helped over 1 million young people achieve their potential. Idris Elba and Jimmy Choo are just two of the men whose prominent careers started with its help.
Over the past decade the King has helped raise £140M for 400 charities.
Queen Elizabeth ll raised £1.4B for her 600 charities in her 70 year reign
Last year Prince William and Princess Catherine raised £20M for the Royal Foundation. Prince William is due to begin a major initiative for the homeless this year.
One of the arguments against the coronation and indeed the monarchy itself, has been that the money should be used for the homeless.
Yet, some of the worst homelessness I’ve seen has been in the USA and India. Both are republics. One is a world superpower, the other is a wannabe superpower. Both have nuclear and space programmes.
What’s their excuse?
Not everyone supports a monarchy. Fair enough. However, not having one does not automatically equate to an equal society. No such society exists, despite many countries having removed their monarchies. Animal Farm by George Orwell brilliantly exposes human nature and its predilection for power and control. Be wary of those who seek to dismantle a constitutional monarch – they don’t seek to do it for the homeless or anyone else, they seek to replace it with themselves.
The motley crew of people who are anti monarchy; the sneering tweeters, the protestors, the media bosses who run to the palace to collect their own OBEs and Damehoods but sell anti monarchy output to the masses, the low grade grifters who spew fake outrage on social media – they’re minor players.
At several recent red carpet/launch events I’ve attended, influencers have outnumbered journalists from the traditional press.
It’s easy to see why. Influencers have engaged, focused audiences. This audience listens and responds to what they say, the information they give and the recommendations they make.
Official Royal reporting could benefit from expanding to include such influencers /content creators. While much of the mainstream media has obsessed about actress Meghan Markle and Harry Windsor, it is these influencers who have provided some of the most interesting and focused reporting on the coronation. From the history to the outfits worn at past coronations, to the ritual and the ceremony, it is they who have educated and entertained many who don’t use traditional media or are turned off by its negativity.
The Royal media office could do worse than select a few influencers, try them out over a 3 – 6 month period and develop a new royal rota they can turn to for coverage of their work. These influencer/ content creators could be given media spots at Royal engagements. They could be sent press releases, in advance, to allow them to put together creative briefs to maximise the impact of their reports. The influencer approach is increasingly being used to promote films, television and games. It’s a huge potential field for the Royal family to explore.
Undoubtedly, the souvenir supplements produced by the traditional newspapers, post coronation, have been fantastic. But the people I spoke to on the Mall are fed up with their general obsessive and sycophantic coverage of Harry and Meghan. “ What’s the purpose of all these articles and stories,” one woman said, “no one believes them. No one believes she stayed away from an historic, global media event, for the sake of a 4 year old’s birthday that could have been celebrated a day later.”
The purpose, of course, is PR for their ailing ’brand’. plus, PR and having an agent only work if the public want what you’re offering. Eleventy billion nonsensical, puff pieces in the press are more turn-off than helpful to the pair.
The television talking heads were just as annoying.
Adjoa Andoh is playing King Richard lll at the theatre in one of those ’reimagined’ shows in which mediocre people butcher a classic. Richard lll was white, male and a king. Andoh is mixed race and female. Perhaps playing the part has skewed her sense of reality because her contribution to coronation coverage was to make stupid and offensive comments about the Royal balcony being ‘terribly white.’ This casual racism from a woman who chose a white husband for herself and has a white mother is appalling and television needs to stop giving it and race baiters a platform. It’s horribly divisive and helps no community.
Ultimately though, absurd articles from the British press and crumbling American magazines like Rolling Stone and People, will provide lining for litter trays and no one will remember minor actresses who race bait. They will remember only a coronation that was executed flawlessly.
My coronation day
I’ve had a pretty royal week! I started it by interviewing the Duke of Richmond, then met the Prince and Princess of Wales on their walkabout in Soho, did the Westminster Abbey tour while it still has the coronation chair and ended it by meeting Princess Beatrice.
On coronation day, five of us took the plunge and set off from different parts of London on dawn o’clock trains to get to the Mall. A sixth friend pulled out at the last minute and now bitterly regrets it.
I thought getting the 5 am train was pretty hardcore. But it was already packed with people wrapped in Union Jack flags, wearing Union Jack, leggings, scarves, earrings and hairbands, who must have left home even earlier. Everyone was in great spirits.
The Mall was also already jam packed, not least with those who had been camping for several days. I had interviewed some of them earlier in the week and they were a fun group, very eloquently explaining to me why they chose to camp out, the camaraderie they enjoyed with other campers and how it was an adventure.
By Saturday all the tents had to been packed away, so that more people could join the crowd. And join they did, in the thousands. Each section was at least 20 people deep.
I was at the Palace end of the Mall. There was a party atmosphere. Everyone was friendly, excited and happy to be there. There were Londoners, of course but also many people from the furthest corners of the UK and around the world. Apart from Brits, I’d say the second biggest group was from the USA followed, it seems by Germans.
At 6 am, someone remarked that we still had four hours before the procession started. A young man at the back, put it in perspective “Charles has been waiting 70 years for this moment, we can wait four hours!”
We joked, shared food, chatted, and the time flew by. We spoke of the Queen. That she had been universally, admired and loved was confirmed when everyone, poignantly, still named her as their favourite Royal. However, there was support for and faith in Charles and a general expectation that he will be a good king. The support for Camilla was more subdued. While no one bore her any ill will and many felt she had been wrongly vilified for too long and admired the dignified way she has carried herself in the face of media onslaughts, there was still some hesitance to fully embrace her. Nevertheless, there was also a thoughtful discussion about the flaws and complexities of Diana’s personality and behaviour and I did not get a sense that people were still stuck in that drama.
One man mentioned that a large group of Americans staying at his hotel had been at pains to tell him how much they detested actress Meghan Markle. The understanding laughter and responses from the crowd around him suggested that the loathing for Markle remains intense. But people also seemed increasingly bored with her and Harry as yesterday’s stale news. No one remarked on his background presence at the ceremony.
The Prince and Princess of Wales and their three children remain firm favourites with the crowds who attend royal events.
After 9am the heavens opened. First with droplets, then downpours. But neither dampened the crowd spirit.
Former soldiers in my section, proudly wearing their medals, offered me one of their chairs to stand on, so that I could see the procession better. That’s the kind of crowd it was.
As the procession started, the taller men in the crowd, were assigned the job of giving us first impressions. Charles and Camilla, in the first of two carriages, were declared to be looking ‘radiant.’ Then, when the jaws of the tall men dropped, and they gave the greatest compliment that men, who have no idea about fashion can give, that kate and Charlotte looked ‘really nice’, we knew there was something special to see. And so there was. The Wales family looked as regal as it’s possible to look and the headpieces worn by Princess Catherine and Princess Charlotte were exquisite.
The procession going to Westminster Abbey was of course, splendid and then spectacular on its later return.
There were plenty of portaloos and several food stalls. Loudspeakers gave the crowd occasional instructions, then relayed the ceremony. I went to watch the ceremony on the huge screen in St James’s Park but the rest of my group didn’t because they had a good spot and wanted to keep it.
It was pouring with rain by this point but the moment King Charles was crowned, there were cheers all around the park from the large, soaked crowd. There were cheers for Prince George when his face was shown on screen. And there were very loud cheers when Prince William knelt before his father and pledged his loyalty.
After the return procession had passed, the barriers were removed and we were able to move into the centre of the Mall. The crowd surged at this point, towards Buckingham Palace. There was huge excitement. I got a good spot near the palace. I had only ever seen the balcony appearances on television and it felt very special to be here at this particularly historic one.
All day I’d met some lovely people. Now, we happily took photos of each other with the balcony in the background and the coronation flag flying at full mast. Then we exchanged numbers , promising to send photos and videos if we had captured moments others hadn’t.
And you know what – the next day several of these photos and videos landed in my WhatsApp inbox because it was that kind of kind, nice crowd. I sent mine in return and we all jokingly agreed to meet again for King William’s coronation!