I have a few takeaways from this Coronation Weekend of pomp, pageantry and rock ‘n’ roll I’d like to share that characterised the coronation of King Charles III on Saturday 6 May and the coronation concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday 7 May.
Like millions of people in the UK and many more millions around the world, we watched the coronation ceremony live on the BBC. It was all you’d expect from an event like this and the BBC’s mastery in staging, producing and broadcasting it live.
The camera work and presentation of the ceremony that took place in Westminster Abbey were a compelling viewing experience. From the moment the King and his Queen Consort entered the building to the conclusion of this highly formal, traditional and so regal an event, we were part of something historic you could feel. The sense of witnessing a key part of this country’s identity and history that stretches back well over a thousand years is a powerful thing.
The BBC has posted video recordings on the BBC iPlayer (the full ceremony in UHD, for UK viewers) and its YouTube channel (a 4-minute summary), there for all the world to view at its leisure. Seeing it again, it really is quite a spectacle.
For me, the most compelling part of all was during the anointing of the King behind privacy screens and just before the actual crowning ceremony.
While this element in the coronation took place we could hear the orchestra playing Zadok the Priest and see the choir singing the accompanying words. This seminal work was composed by George Frideric Handel in 1727 for the coronation of King George II, and has been part of every coronation since then.
Will it produce a strong emotional reaction for you as it does for me? Watch the video and read the lyrics in the captions.
All Change at the Castle
The concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday evening was as different from the formality of the royal coronation on Saturday as you could imagine.
The production design was magnificent in the construction of the huge outdoor stage with all the supporting elements including imagery in the darkening evening sky created by drones that played key visual roles in the story-telling we saw and heard from each of the acts on stage and at venues up and down the country.
Each act took full advantage of the spaces and the panoramic depth of view across the audience of 20,000 surrounding the stage in a semi-circle with the castle wall as backdrop. All for an audio-visual experience that was designed for digital content broadcast and displayed in high-definition video and audio on big-screen TVs and other compatible devices.
And so to the acts themselves.
For me, two were standouts because of their sheer energy and ability, encompassing the singers themselves together with supporting backers and other artists, and the simple enjoyment of viewing their performances that were presented so beautifully – another testament to the BBC and the skills of its production teams and contractors in putting on an event like this. You only have to watch the Platinum Party at the Palace concert last year celebrating the late’s Queen’s Platinum Jubilee to see that they really do know what they’re doing.
My first standout is Katy Perry. The multi-platinum American singer’s energy and exuberance were delightful as she belted out ‘Roar’, her 2013 number 1 hit record. On stage, her reflective-gold costume was a visual feast as her every move and turn reflected the light so that she stood out unmistakably, contrasting the stage lights.
My second standout act is Take That. The venerable British pop group, with a string of hit singles and albums over almost 30 years, closed the concert with their 1995 hit song ‘Never Forget’, starting with the choristers of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, singing the song’s introduction, and with backing by drummers of the Royal Marines Band.
Take That are past masters at audience engagement, something we saw in this concert session. Just about the whole audience of 20,000 singing along, waving flags, illuminated armbands highly visible in the evening darkness, all adding to the audio-visual experience. And the Royals joined in, too.
Looking Ahead for the Monarchy
In the midst of the focus on King Charles and his wife Camilla as the Queen (crowned on Saturday, too, so no longer known simply as ‘Queen Consort’), it’s worth mentioning how William, Prince of Wales, has come to the forefront of attention during the past year.
His natural and easy ability for public speaking, and conveying a sincere belief in his authenticity and passion for causes related to climate change (the Earthshot Prize being the classic example), stand him in good stead for what undoubtedly will be required of him as his role will change now that his father is the anointed and coronated king and head of state. William is now next in line for succession. His speech on Sunday was a clear affirmation of his commitment to the service of others.
And what will be next for the Royal Family and the monarchy overall as an institution? We live in changing times (to perhaps re-coin an old phrase) and the role and purpose of the monarchy are being questioned publicly and more critically than the polite murmurings of the past.
That said, a YouGov survey just before the coronation shows there is still strong support for the monarchy among the British public – of those surveyed, two-and-a-half times as many said we should continue to have a monarchy than those who said we shouldn’t.
Still, changes in sentiment are in the air and, while some criticism has already translated into active opposition (prompting strong police reaction and a follow-up apology), a good foundation of support presents the right opportunity to build on it in ways that really can resonate with different age groups in the population.
And there’s still a limited window through which to capitalise on the goodwill King Charles has earned, much of which carries over from his mother the late Queen.
I can see both the King and William taking a strong, prominent and proactive lead on many issues surrounding climate change that would resonate with people, especially if there’s a strong sense of advancement, taking things forward, and stimulating action.
I can see another, parallel opportunity that will need strong persuasive acts and willingness to carry them through, and that is the King becoming more involved in advancing the climate change agenda in some of the politics in this country. Perhaps review the government’s long list of items in this agenda – pick just three things and get them moving.
If politicians can’t get things done, perhaps it’s time for another approach including expanding or formalising the scope for influence the monarch holds which may lead to opening up the wider debate on exactly how the monarchy should evolve. It’s a big topic.
Where there’s a will, though, there’s a way.