This weekend’s coronation will be an historic moment, a milestone in the mass memory. Just think how many dreary British films will be set against the backdrop of the coronation. (At least it will make a change from things being set against the backdrop of the miners’ strike – a mate of mine invented a game where you take turns adding that to the synopses of other famous films, e.g. ‘Jack Nicholson is possessed by the spirit of a murderous caretaker, set against the poignant backdrop of the miners’ strike’.)
But there is already a sense of a rather odd, half-in half-out, uncertain tone to the affair. This is meant to be a spectacle of majesty and splendour, but oh no, we can’t have the Speaker’s gold coach. The coronation is the sacred rite calling on God’s intervention in temporal business, but oh dear, we mustn’t offend anybody.
Celebrity invitees to the Big Do include judges and/or presenters from current reality hits Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Repair Shop. This is a capsule illustration of how Britain has changed since the previous such occasion. Famously, television didn’t really exist in 1953, but if this was taking place 20 or so years later it would have been like inviting Mickie Most, Ted Moult and David Jacobs. I’m a traditionalist – royals and celebs should not mix. There is a faint, dangerous whiff about it of 1987’s The Great Royal Knockout Tournament. For some reason, the Beckhams have got seats. David – okay, maybe, at a push. But Victoria? There are at least four more talented Spice Girls!
Why stop there? Get Gemma Collins down. And much as I like Joanna Lumley and Rowan Atkinson they seem a bit random. Perhaps there were two spare chairs for national treasures and names were pulled out of a hat. It could just as well have been Martin Jarvis and Penelope Keith, or Angela Rippon and Cliff Richard, or Julie Walters and David Jason. Still, Gyles Brandreth must be pea-green.
Other signs of hesitancy and muddle include the official coronation postage stamps which are very pretty, but come with the tags attached of ‘biodiversity and sustainability’ and ‘diversity and community’, as if this was an occasion run by Hounslow Council. The new religion of identity supplanting the old one. We see this in how it has been spun, for example, that the supernaturally brilliant Floella, Baroness Benjamin can’t just be there on her own thoroughly deserved merits, she must represent everybody that superficially looks a bit like her.
The order of service and liturgy has typos and erratic kerning and typesetting, for which there is no excuse. They’ve had 70 years to get the details right! There is that shaky feeling of decline, of nobody knowing quite what they’re doing – one recalls how nobody had thought to check before last year’s accession proclamation that Penny Mordaunt knew how to pronounce ‘pursuivant’.
And asking people to make an oath to Charles, even though it is optional, is such a bad move. Even the hackles of a traditionalist like me rose when I heard about it. I’ve never taken to Charles, and certainly not to his offspring. But then I opened Twitter, and within two minutes tribalism had taken its effect and I was quite prepared to fling myself at Camilla’s feet wailing, ‘We are not worthy!’ But really that’s a shameful impulse of mine – pledging allegiance to ‘own the libs’.
On the internet the get-out-of-oath caveat – ‘All who so desire’ – was overlooked as the cultural establishment erupted in ebullitions. ‘The whole affair is tone deaf, positively medieval and deeply anti-secular,’ said Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society. What exactly was he expecting, the Brit awards? The funniest reaction was someone saying it was ‘like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four’. I must’ve missed the bit where O’Brien tells Winston Smith, ‘Oh by the way, pal, hope you don’t mind but I thought I might drop some hungry rats in a box around your head, but only if you’re okay with it, mate, whatever suits.’
This oath, with its faint tang of both the Comintern and the White House, is surely both very unBritish and very unChristian. We don’t do anything as tatty and tacky as swear our fealty, it’s taken as read and simply not discussed. My background is as far from titled as it’s possible to get, yet I found myself thinking ‘How common’. The funniest thing is that this was the Firm’s idea of opening up the ceremony and being ‘inclusive’ – ‘hey I know, how about not just peers of the realm, right, but everyone pledges allegiance to me?’
Either the coronation is the literal anointing of God’s chosen by His envoy on Earth, or it’s a posh knees-up for the new CEO of just another mega-charity. It can’t be both.