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Coronation sceptical

Against the tyranny of twee

Artillery Row

I am struggling to develop coronation fever. Perhaps it’s my natural dislike of organised fun, but my main response to each fresh revelation about the big day — each morsel and tidbit trumpeted eagerly in the press — has been little more than a beleaguered sigh.

The design of the invitation was very nice, with that twee quality everything must have now — to soften the reality and sprinkle irony. 

There were the pretty stamps, emphasising the monarchy’s ancient commitments to diversity and sustainability. There was the guest list — Lady Pamela Hicks out, the Queen’s dresser out, Gyles Brandreth out; Amanda Holden and Mr Bean in.

Then there were the “A-listers” who turned down the chance of performing at the Sunday night concert — having previously fallen over themselves to associate with the Queen.

I like the idea the Palace was surprised by this. These people’s interest in the institution will be zero. It’s about them: what their friends think, what they can get from it. Elton John would don a pair of gaudy oversized glasses and belt out a tuneless rendition of “I’m Still Standing” in a field of dog shit if he thought it useful. That’s showbiz, folks.

What is the point of the Monarchy if it devolves into finger-wagging?

It’s terrible, really, because I am a monarchist. I write this, therefore, not antagonistically, but as an ultra loyalist: a Russian monk bewailing the advisors round the Tsar.

My spider sense is tingling. I think there is a danger we are going to see the monarchy make precisely the same mistake as the Tory Party, and the Church of England, and plenty of other organisations and institutions in recent years. It may focus too much of its energy trying to appease those who would destroy it, whilst slowly decoupling itself not only from its natural supporters, but from the logic of its own position. What is the point of the Monarchy if it devolves into quirkiness and finger-wagging? Where does it fit into a society reconfigured as a globalist, secular, eco-technocracy?

The silk stockings and breeches are going. There have been the inevitable alterations to the liturgy. A reference to Charles obtaining “the crown of an everlasting kingdom” has been removed — probably wise, as our current trajectory suggests making it to Christmas would be an achievement. The Homage of the Peers becomes the Homage of the People — an intriguing example of the retrograde consequences of progress.

Whereas the aristocracy paying their homage is inoffensive, and logical when we understood them as integral to the constitution, the idea of Mrs Ollerenshaw in her semi in Widnes leaping to her feet to declare her true allegiance to King Charles and Queen Camilla feels absurd and rather un-British. It’s just not the sort of thing we do.

Perhaps it’s this performative edge that is needling me. Charles is a sensitive man, I think, with an artistic temperament. One of the things artists or writers of whatever type try to do, or should try to do, is explore and reveal some truth.

What is the truth of the production we are being treated to on Saturday? Sure, it’s great to see all the accoutrement of pomp and ceremony, the soldiers and the carriages and the beautiful cathedral, but the monarchy, if it is to endure, needs to be more than a slick, elaborate, celeb-courting performance.

Apparently, the service will be deeply religious, which is a surprise given the involvement of Justin Welby. His God has always struck me as a kind of hippie grandpa, more likely to roll up to the ceremony in a solar-panelled motorhome than part the clouds and transfigure a King.

The real problem, however, is where this all fits into British culture in the wider sense. What precisely is its relevance? Although billed as millennia old, the spectacle we are being offered at the weekend has its roots in the mid-18th century. It is a tweaked, sweetened and diluted re-enactment of the last few hundred years, rather than the last 1,000.

Behind this imperial echo — the word “imperial” has been snipped from the liturgy, but the hangover remains — lies a tradition darker, older, more anarchic, more parochial and just as dramatic. Perhaps, as this century unfolds, it is here, before the Empire, that the monarchy must look for its inspiration.

I don’t think we can have another hundred, two hundred years of slick pageants and nice concerts. We need to rediscover ourselves as a more integrated culture — bigger and richer than scones and jam and Paddington Bear and Stephen Fry and irony — within a more rational country: strongly independent, but reconciled to our reduced role in, and responsibilities to, the world.

The future of the monarchy, like the future of our country, can be both slimmed down and full fat.

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