Who Cares About Charlie’s Crowning?

Millions of Britons who will get swept up in the spectacle of Charles's coronation have no enthusiasm for the monarchy and no particular regard for the 74-year-old on whose head the crown will be placed.

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There will be huge crowds, wall-to-wall media coverage, and a mass homage to the new monarch – but don’t imagine that the hype surrounding the coronation on Saturday, May 6, means that Britain cares all that much about king and crown. Millions of those who will get swept up in the spectacle have no enthusiasm for the monarchy and no particular regard for the 74-year-old – what an age to start the big job of your life! – on whose head the crown will be placed.

A recent survey suggested that just 29% of Britons consider the monarchy to be ‘very important’ – down sharply from 38% last year, when Queen Elizabeth was still with us. That still outnumbers those who hold that the monarchy should be abolished, but only just.

Another poll has revealed that among those under 25, a clear majority believe Britain should have an elected head of state rather than a hereditary monarchy. For the coming generation, the monarchy is an irrelevance. If the crown survives, it will be simply because it doesn’t really matter any more. It’s an institution of so little consequence, no one wishes to expend political capital in closing it down.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

But a few more scandals of the sort that have besmirched King Charles’s brother, Prince Andrew – a friend of the convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein (though Andrew has denied persistent allegations that he had sex with young women procured for that purpose) – and Britain’s monarchy could be beyond repair. There will be a ‘do not resuscitate’ note placed on the royal bedpost.

Queen Elizabeth’s coronation back in June 1953 caught the imagination of the nation. She was 27 and her dashing husband, Prince Philip – bedecked in naval uniform – was just five years older. The glamour and excitement of the occasion helped turn a page after the agony of the war years and the monochrome era of austerity that followed. My parents were one of many thousands of households that bought their first TV set (black-and-white, of course) so they could watch the ceremony.

The Queen enjoyed huge esteem and affection, right to the end of her life. Charles is a decent man, with an intelligent interest in the environment, climate change and urban deprivation. Queen Camilla, his mistress-turned-consort, has personal warmth and a mischievous sense of humour. But they are nothing like as popular as Charles’s mother, and they are hardly the face of Britain’s future. How can Charles III be ‘a king for our times’ – the slogan on display on the front-page of one fawning mass circulation newspaper – when his time was a generation and more ago?

Some allies of the royal family talk of the monarchy as an aspect of Britain’s soft power – reeling in tourists and their money and adding to the nation’s global standing. The truth is that Adele does more for Britain’s reputation around the world and Manchester City attracts much more revenue. The crown has become a side show. The main global interest in the royal family is as a real life soap opera, featuring a real life actress – the king’s daughter-in-law, Meghan Markle – who has decided to give the coronation a miss.

Meghan is in good company. There’s much talk of the coronation as the biggest ever gathering of world leaders. But Joe Biden will be represented by his wife; President Xi Jinping by one of his deputies; India by its vice-president, Jagdeep Dhankhar; and Vladimir Putin wasn’t invited. Emmanuel Macron – representing a nation which famously guillotined its king during the French Revolution – is one of the few global movers-and-shakers who will be present.

Britain does majesty and pageant well, as we saw with the Queen’s funeral. This coronation will be wonderfully choreographed and may even, at moments, moisten a few eyes. But it is in essence a fairground attraction that is mired in another era. Saturday’s ceremony, we are told, will be inclusive and modern – yet along with the crown, orb and sceptre, Westminster Abbey will be stuffed full of arcane royal regalia, much of it carried by obscure members of the aristocracy and backwoodsmen from the House of Lords. That doesn’t sound hugely contemporary.

Among the roll-call of the not-so-famous, Lord Kamall, a Conservative politician and former academic, will present the armills (you don’t know what they are? – neither did I, it seems they are chunky bracelets worn round both wrists much in the style of handcuffs); Lord Patel, that is the former obstetrician Narendra Patel, will present the ring, which features a ‘God almighty’ size sapphire overlaid with rubies in the shape of a cross; and Lord Singh, aka the journalist and broadcaster Indarjit Singh, will carry the coronation glove.

This has the feel of a box-ticking exercise to attempt to convince the four-million or so Britons of South Asian heritage: we haven’t forgotten you. Charles really is your king too!

You can see where J.K. Rowling got some of her ideas from and why Hogwarts is a uniquely British institution, sharing with the palace a mix of hocus-pocus, crusted tradition and an ossified social hierarchy. At least Harry Potter caught the popular imagination. But then he’s young, heroic and handsome. I’m not sure that King Charles can claim any of those virtues.

Andrew Whitehead is an honorary professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK and a former BBC India Correspondent.