SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


Confession from an old cynic, I am beginning
to admire King Charles

BLOTTED OUT: Anne’s giant feather obscured Harry

In the end all it took was a coronation. Ok, THE Coronation. I have admitted here that when it comes to the monarchy I’m an atheist at best. But the extraordinary spectacle over four hours in Westminster Abbey assaulted every sense of this old cynic, particularly the ears.


Oh that music! No wonder most of the congregation arrived shortly after 9am, they clearly knew they were in for the best concert in town; two hours of Bach, Byrd, Bruckner (all the Bs) and Purcell, Parry, Walton, Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams (little known fact: I used to work on the subs bench of the Sketch with his grandson Hugh.)


And that was before we arrived at the Coronation Service proper. But before more music, let’s have a look at some of the guests. Stephen Fry was there, clearly long forgiven for his admission that he regularly snorted Colombia’s finest in the Buckingham Palace loos; Ant and Bloody Dec (oh dear, apparently they are Prince’s Trust ambassadors); Emma Thompson making a look-at-me Fergie-style entrance complete with a V (for victory I should add) sign and a magician called Dynamo. Was the King hoping he would make the cost of the event vanish?


Then came the politicians, the former prime ministers, sadly mostly failed. Johnson arrived looking ever fatter, ever scruffier, all an act for attention. And then Truss with her long suffering husband. The woman has absolutely no shame, 49 days in the job and at the cost of the national economy. Stop it man, bad for the blood pressure!


And then the two phantom princes, Andrew and Harry, the former all wrapped up in the robes of Order of the Garter (whose garter you may ask?) and poor, sad little Harry all alone and squeezed into Row Three, at one stage blotted out by the giant red feather plume in Auntie Anne’s tricorn hat. Alas no Sarah Ferguson, what gaiety she would have added!


But before we return to the music, a confession. I am beginning to admire the King. His idea of having all faith leaders play a part in the liturgy was absolutely right, even if it did lead to overcrowding at the sharp end of the service. And it was he who insisted on having girl choristers instead of the traditional all-male choir.


At one point when he was divested of all his top finery and left for the anointing with just a plain, loose white shift, he reminded me of poor old George III fighting his madness in Alan Bennett’s greatest work. George was an admirer of Handel, something the King and I share passionately. Which brings me neatly back to Zadok the Priest, rightfully the centrepiece of all coronations since the old boy wrote it for George II in 1727.


There was a new anthem, specially for the occasion, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, rather good but so showy I expected the girls from Starlight Express to do a turn. And I liked the Ascension Choir’s rocky song too.


I hope the King and Queen (Vivat Regina Camilla, who’d have thought?) enjoyed it all as much as we did because they deserved to. But the real star of the show? Step  forward  Penny Mordaunt, Lord President of the Council, who was on her feet almost all of the time, mostly carrying heavy ceremonial swords and winning admiration from non other than Alastair Campbell. She looked rather good too.


I mentioned, below, that I was very moved reading the diary of my beloved great aunt’s diary of the 1953 Coronation. Aunt Aggie was in the crowd so didn’t even see it on a tiny, flickering mono telly (though no doubt she caught up with the event with Pathe News.)


Throughout yesterday I thought how much this lovely lady would have adored the Coronation yesterday. As, I must now confess, did I.  


Now the loony right guns for Sunak after Tory election disaster

It didn’t take long. The awful results for the Conservatives in the local elections have already spurred the headbangers on the right of the party to sharpen their knives.


Their target is of course Rishi Sunak, primarily because he isn’t Boris Johnson. No he’s not, he appears from this standpoint to be a decent enough chap who isn’t a lying, foul-mouthed, sponging narcissist hell bent on world domination, and for that we should be thankful.


But to the nasties of the Conservative Democratic Organisation the loss of council after council, not just to Labour but to the Lib Dems and the Greens, is all Sunak’s fault. No blame on Calamity Truss’s 49 days in Downing Street. And as for their idol Johnson, well they clearly haven’t read Anthony Seldon’s forensic exposé Johnson at 10.


(By the way, never trust any political organisation which resorts to including ‘Democratic’ in its name; East Germany, more Stalinist than the real thing, was titled the German Democratic Republic and the blood-soaked country we knew as Zaire is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As for the DUP, I rest my case.)


So who are these true believers determined to take the party further right? Well, there’s Lord Cruddas, former co-treasurer of the Tory Party who ‘resigned’ after the Sunday Times reported that he had offered access to No10 and No11, Cameron and Osborne, for payments of £100-£250,000. A self-made multi-millionaire, good old Pete gave £500,000 to the party when his pal Boris was ‘prime minister’ and this was followed, yes you’ve guessed it, by elevation to the Lords.


Others include the usual suspects, Squire Mogg, Mad Nad Dorries and Priti Patel. But hang on, who’s this? It turns out that Baroness Braverman of Rwanda is also a member. Surely as a serving cabinet minister, Home Secretary no less, she shouldn’t  be anywhere near a right-wing fringe group, likened to Labour’s far left Momentum.


The message from the CDO is: ‘Are you ready to take back control? ... you’ll join like-minded patriots who, like you, want to save our party and country.’ When the word patriot crops up, we should beware. Doesn’t it smack of Oswald Mosley’s ridiculous Black Shirts from the ‘30s?


One other aim of this bunch is to give more control to the Tory grassroots. Wasn’t it those very roots whose votes foisted Truss on us?


 As I’ve said here before, I’m lukewarm about the monarchy. The idea of royalists, especially those from the U.S., camped out in the Mall, is incomprehensible. But I enjoyed Rob McGibbon’s account in the Drone of his school trip to see the late Queen’s coronation procession in 1953. I vaguely remember watching it on a neighbour’s tiny black and white TV about the size of an iPad.


My great aunt, a dedicated monarchist, travelled by boat and train from Northern Ireland to see the great event. When this wonderful woman died aged 90 I found her diary of the trip. I was captivated, not least to read of her being wooed on the train from Liverpool by a decorated Canadian soldier whom she clearly liked. Aunt Agnes was unmarried at the time and remained so for the rest of her life. A near miss maybe, but it also informed me why she never liked alcohol (unlike her great nephew.)


‘I tried champagne but the bubbles kept going up my nose,’ she wrote. That’s the  trouble with her generation, no perseverance these Victorians!


PS: Step forward the genius who came up with the idea of the King and Queen telling us to Mind the Gap while travelling on the Tube. And top marks to the royal couple for agreeing to do it. Thank God it wasn’t that other bloody message: See it, Say it, Sorted.