March of History
Charles honoured his mum’s legacy
IT was a slick march all the way as the biggest military parade in Britain for 70 years took place.
More than 4,000 members of the Army, RAF, Royal Navy and Commonwealth forces in immaculate dress uniforms accompanied the 260-year-old Gold State Coach carrying King Charles and Queen Camilla from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.
And the military exercise in precision wowed the thousands of celebrating royal fans along the route as no-one seemed to put a foot wrong.
Troops had flown home from operational duties and training exercises across the globe to represent their regiments and corps in a procession so long that as the front reached the palace the back was still at Downing Street.
The procession – nearly one and half miles long and six months in the planning –was the grandest ceremonial spectacle since Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953. And wait for it, wait for it… 19 military bands kept an exact tempo of 108 paces a minute as the Gold State Coach rolled along Whitehall and The Mall before conducting the royal salute and a three cheers for the King at the end of the 1.4 mile journey.
At the head of the procession – the bands and flag-bearers, formed into eight groups – was Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw of the Household Division, who also oversaw the Queen’s funeral and her Platinum Jubilee.
On the eve of the big day Lt Col Shaw had said: “The Army has been supporting Coronations for a thousand years in this country, so we’ve got plenty of precedence. We’re part of that history, it’s very exciting.
“His Majesty The King is our Colonel-inchief, we have a very strong bond.”
The procession departed Westminster Abbey at 1pm on the command of the Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew Stokes: “The Coronation Procession, by the Centre, Quick March.”
An earpiece worn by the bass drummer in every marching band enabled the parade to step off at precisely the same time. The
King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery – a ceremonial unit that pulled the coffin of Princess Diana in 1997 – was among the first group to march, about a mile in front of the coach.
Troops from 33 Commonwealth countries lined up in alphabetical order - from Antigua to Zambia with 110 flag bearers carrying their nations’ flags.
Retired army officer Brigadier Greville Bibby described the procession as “so uplifting and unique”. He said: “We expect our ceremonial troops and others to do a good job, but for so many on parade today, this is not what they do every day. They have come from ships, airbases and regimental barracks all over the country, and indeed the world, to perform today.”
Also included were five Canadian Mounties on their famous black horses and West African troops from Gabon and Togo who joined the Commonwealth last year.
The Royal Armoured Corps marched in front of Gurkha riflemen from Nepal, while members of the Honourable Artillery Company – the oldest army regiment – followed behind.
Members of the Royal Lancers, the Royal Marines and the Welsh and Scots Guards joined the eight processional groups, while the Irish
Guards marched with their mascot
Seamus, an Irish wolfhound. The Royal Army Dental Corps, the Intelligence Corps, and the Royal Army Physical Training Corps also navigated the route’s sharp angles and tight spaces.
Meanwhile, the Royal British Legion was represented by a guard of honour of 100 Standard Bearers lining the procession route in Parliament Square.
Earlier in the day, a smaller procession of just under 200 troops led by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment escorted the King and Queen from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
Built in Australia and more comfortable than the Gold State Coach, it has hydraulic suspension, a heating system, lighting, electric windows and air conditioning.
Wood from Isaac Newton’s apple tree and from the Royal Yacht Britannia were incorporated into its bodywork.
The procession also included a further 1,100 members of the armed forces lining the route.
The King is our Colonel in Chief. We have a very strong bond
There were moments when little Prince George looked really rather worried about the whole palaver. He chewed the inside of his mouth on one side. Then the other. His eyes darted from Grandad looking tiny under the weight of his golden robes to Granny Camilla trying to stabilise that impossibly sparkly crown.
So much to take in. Great Auntie Anne in her pirate hat, Ant and Dec off the telly, and more outrageous outfits than any children’s party.
As there was so much for all of us at that historic event to absorb.
Inside Westminster Abbey I sat surrounded by community volunteers, Commonwealth representatives, frontline workers, and so many of those people who make up the backbone of Britain. Oh, and Katy Perry. We’ll get to her later.
But while those invited were there to honour the new King and Queen – it was the young royals who encapsulated them.
George, nine, wore a knee-length scarlet coat with gold trimmings over a white satin waistcoat and lace ruff, along with the King’s other pages. But if the outfit wasn’t enough of a worry then surely there was also the thought that one day this would be all about him.
Then it’ll be King George receiving the jewelled sword of justice, bracelet of sincerity, robe of righteousness, orb representing kingdoms of the world, ring for dignity, glove for gentleness and sceptre for power. Not to mention the heavyweight headgear.
Or perhaps it won’t be like this then at all.
Perhaps this fantastic spectacle of colour, pageantry and extreme religiosity will become impossible in the muted tones and modes of the modern world.
Whatever the future holds, George played his part with aplomb – while siblings Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis sat securely sandwiched between Mum and Dad. Charlotte, dressed in an ivory silk crepe dress and cape, embroidered with ivory satin embroidery of rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock motifs, seemed an eight-year-old oasis of calm.
On her tied-back hair she wore an Alexander Mcqueen headpiece similar to that worn by her mum.
Louis, five, was on tip-top behaviour. Of course the occasional yawn slipped through but that Archbish can go on a bit. And he wasn’t alone – I saw one person enter a particularly deep meditative state during the Byzantine chanting. The guests in the nave were a fabulous mix of service people, volunteers and celebrities. And no assigned seating plan on my side of the Abbey made for some interesting seating permutations.
International megastar Lionel Richie, who’s probably not sat second row of anywhere since the late 1970s, had to peer between two large mother-of-the-bride hats in front of him.
Ant and Dec were perched next to each other just across the way from Chris Whitty, David Dimbleby and lovely Jay Blades from The Repair
They were joined by some of Britain’s most defining characters:
M, Nanny Mcphee and
Patsy from Ab Fab.
And between them the real characters who define our nation – those who cooked food for the needy during Covid, those who work with the homeless or help young people from underprivileged backgrounds.
I squeezed into a chair so close to the pulpit I could smell Rishi Sunak’s freshly polished shoes when he stepped up to do the reading.
How relieved he and wife Akshata Murthy must have been to arrive apart from the procession of former Prime Ministers. First came John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with their wives. They may be older and greyer but they were moving at pace to create a healthy distance down the aisle ahead of the calamity crew of the past 13 years: perma-tanned David Cameron, orange-hatted
Theresa May, still sniggering Boris Johnson, and another orange hat covering Liz Truss. (Surely one orange hat is quite enough for any coronation?)
Still, at least Liz Truss’ husband had the good grace to look mortified at getting a walk-on role at the Coronation in return for his wife’s catastrophic seven-week reign.
Shortly before the service began, a vision in pink plonked into the seat behind me, gushing: “Hi, I’m Katy.”
Multi-award-winning Katy Perry, one of the biggest-selling artists ever, who’s at today’s Coronation Concert, was six rows back from the aisle, squished between a pillar and a pulpit. But her verdict at the end: “Awesome, I loved it.”
Well, our royals do know a thing or two about putting on a show.
When Charles and Camilla finally got married, 18 years ago, our late Queen summed up her feelings. The day coincided with the Grand National and she drew a witty analogy during her speech at the wedding reception.
“Having cleared Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles, they have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well,” she said. “My son is home and dry with the woman he loves. They are now on the home straight; the happy couple are now in the winner’s enclosure.”
Yesterday, she surely would have been proud once again as St Edward’s Crown, last worn 70 years ago at her own Coronation, was placed on her eldest son’s head.
She alone would have known the weight of that hefty crown — and of the responsibility that goes with it. And she knew, too, the importance of having someone at your side to share that burden. For her, it was her “liege man”, Prince Philip, who was her “stay and strength” for more than seven decades.
At Westminster Abbey yesterday, during what was clearly quite a tense and complicated service
– with the fear of mishaps ever present – the first moment
King Charles visibly relaxed was when he saw the love of his life, his “darling wife”, crowned alongside him.
Camilla had looked nervous from the start and watched her husband with anxious eyes as he took part in the extraordinary, and sometimes precarious, rituals of an ancient ceremony.
Together, though, with their crowns glittering with diamonds, it was obvious that they draw strength and comfort from one another.
And they had the late Queen to thank for the
She alone would have known the weight of that hefty crown and the responsibility that goes with it
final chapter in their love story. Her pronouncement that she wanted Camilla to become Queen Consort had made a once seemingly impossible prospect come true.
Things were not always easy between Queen Elizabeth and Camilla. During the difficult Diana years, the Queen refused to acknowledge her son’s affair. She wanted Charles to be happy but as a religious woman and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she felt unable to condone an adulterous relationship. It caused great hurt to Charles. But eventually, eight years after Diana’s tragic death, she relented and they were able to marry.
Camilla learned a great deal from her mother-in-law and the two women became close.
Gradually, Camilla took on a greater workload, becoming patron of more than 90 charities and championing causes like the fight against domestic abuse, supporting survivors of rape and promoting the arts, literacy and animal welfare. Her work ethic won the Queen’s admiration and Elizabeth rewarded her last year by not only appointing her to the prestigious Order of the Garter but also making it known she wanted Camilla to be Queen one day.
And what a day it was! In the magnificent setting of the Abbey, we saw the very essence of monarchy: the continuity of the Crown passing through 1,000 years of history, contrasting with the changing face of a modern institution.
Seventy years ago, a young Queen was crowned in front of a huge congregation of
mainly white male guests from the aristocracy. Yesterday, our elderly King ensured people from all walks of life and of different faiths and heritage were included in the much smaller audience. Many a ducal nose was put out of joint when an invitation to the Coronation failed to materialise.
For the first time, women played a prominent role. The orb, for example, was held by a former nurse, Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, and the Sovereign’s Sceptre by Baroness Floella Benjamin.
In a service that was profoundly solemn and sometimes awkwardly stiff, there was a joyful interlude when, in another first, a gospel choir – drawn from the singers at Harry and Meghan’s wedding – swayed and sang Alleluia.
It had been the King’s personal wish to have gospel singers at his Coronation – a gesture which surely must have resonated with Harry as he sat watching the proceedings.
For all the innovations, though, this was a ceremony steeped in history and, frankly, slightly bizarre in the modern world.
Not only watching but taking part were the next two kings in line, William and George. What must they have thought of it all?
George chewed his lips as he watched it unfold and it’s hard to imagine such an archaic ceremony happening when his time comes. As for our new King and Queen, the relief on their faces when it was over was palpable.
And, during their undoubtedly uncomfortable ride in the splendour of the Gold State Coach as it rocked and rolled like a ship in rough seas, they looked genuinely moved by the warmth of the cheering crowds that lined the route back to the Palace.
The King is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is an emotional soul and this was a day full of emotion.
At times, he looked as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders and there is no doubt he feels the task ahead will not be an easy one. Like his mother before him, he has not only the affairs of state to deal with but also a fractious family that is still far from united.
There was no time yesterday for a heart-toheart with Harry, whose fleeting visit seemed to be a duty more than a pleasure. The healing of that rift – if it is to be healed – will have to come later.
But for now, King Charles and Queen Camilla, whose long love story once caused almost terminal turmoil to the institution they now head, can sit back and enjoy the fruits of having definitely arrived in the winner’s enclosure.