A belated post about the period around the coronation of King Charles II in May 2023, observed from Cardiff in Wales and London in England.
On the Saturday of the coronation ceremony itself, there was little obvious indication of it in Cardiff. No bustling excited schoolkids, no union jack flags, no bunting, no street-side pubs advertising anything related. Even closer too home, I hadn’t seen much by way of street parties advertised locally on our street, as there had been for the Queen’s Jubilee around 12 months earlier.
Sunday was the assigned day for such parties and gatherings, but when I cycled through a number of Cardiff districts that afternoon, looking out for signs or potential street parties, I couldn’t see much. Later in the day, the BBC News app informed me that there had been a couple, in the Grangetown and Heath areas of the city. But to me, the activity seemed notable by its absence, especially when compared with the jubilee celebrations, earlier jubilee celebrations, royal weddings, and the recent deaths of the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Queen. On all those occasions, you could detect something, whether obvious in the form of billboard messages of mourning, or more subtle, at least an indication of investment in the royal narrative. They all appeared to land with greater significance than this coronation.
There was a commemorative postbox in the city centre, curious in its location opposite the Owain Glyndwr pub, named after a Welsh leader, soldier and military commander of the late Middle Ages, who led a 15-year long revolt to end English rule. It was decorated with coronation livery, and had been promptly vandalised and egged by anti-monarchists, and supporters of Welsh Independence. Seriously, what did they expect would happen?
Of course there had been excitement when the new King visited Cardiff on his tour of the nation capitals following his mother’s death last September.
[View the Composed piece: Cardiff mourns Queen Elizabeth II]
This time around, not so much at all.
Was the muted reception a sign of the times? An indication of the growing Yes Cymru independence movement? Was it a sign of more generalised antipathy or apathy towards the monarchy, or towards Charles specifically? Perhaps he doesn’t inspire excitement, fervour or loyalty, as his mother did. These are early days, still, and he won’t have as many as his mum.
There were people I noticed while cycling, who appeared dressed up, who held carrier bags and walked with some surreptitious purpose, as if on their way to private parties. Perhaps having affection for the royals, or even a vague interest in them, has become more secretive or dangerous in Cardiff, and Wales. It could be something that people here have become wary of being open about. It is more divisive than before, as everything appears to be now. No longer can you casually pin union jack colours to a mast in Wales, without it being perceived as a political statement.
The following Tuesday I attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace with my wife, after we accepted an invite through her work. The new Prince of Wales had recently become a patron of her employer, Wales Air Ambulance, and we were invited to briefly meet him. For me, there is an irresistible curiosity about the whole fanfare, those improbably historic, flamboyant and intricate traditions literally sewn throughout the coronation ceremony itself. At Buckingham Palace, the pomp and sense of an event was of course rather more palpable. I felt some self-consciousness at not wearing a tie. As hard as I scoured the crowds for other men not wearing a tie, I couldn’t find one. Even the aggressive looking young man with bold face tattoos wore one. Would Prince William frown upon my open shirt? Oh, well.
There was amusement to be found in the slightly doddery and incompetent old aristocrats in top hats who tried to be helpful, but offered many confusing and contradictory directions. It was all sort of silly and bonkers and undeniably British. And William didn’t appear to frown at my lack of tie. He seemed like an affable bloke, passionate about the air ambulance, having worked for one earlier in his life, and for fundraising strategies. The professional photographers and videographers appeared to get bored of photographing him meeting people just before he met us, so as far as I know, there is no evidence of our meeting.
Before breakfast the next day I took a walk around central London and observed significantly more union jack flags than in Cardiff, as you might expect.
There was also a coronation tribute on a war memorial in the Gloucestershire village of Aylburton. Half seen on our outward journey, I had to stop and grab a frame on the final leg home, after collecting daughter and dog from my parents later that day.
[View the Composed piece about the visit of Prince Harry and his fiance Meghan Markle to Cardiff in January 2018]
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