Camilla – Queen Camilla as she is now – always looks as though she is trying hard not to giggle. Her two facial expressions on formal occasions seem to say: “Am I really here?” and “What a jolly jape!”
The coronation of the man she knows as her husband and we now know as King Charles III wasn’t any different. It was as though she was thinking: “Well it’s just Charles isn’t it – this is the kind of thing he does.”
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, interviewed before the he was due to host the ceremony, said: “The biggest challenge was not to make it like Gilbert and Sullivan”.
Wherever you stand on the spectrum of royalist or republican – and a lot of us waver like a metronome between the two stances, it was, as it happened, a glorious, colourful and most entertaining occasion. It was literally carried out with military precision.
Every base drummer in each of the six military bands on the parade had an ear piece telling them when to start, to ensure everyone moved off at once.
Commentator Clare Balding told us in hushed tones that there were 10,000 armed forces involved, sailors, soldiers and aviators in the biggest military procession in 70 years.
She added cheerfully that the chances of rain falling on the people lining the route had gone down to only 40 per cent.
Sadly, that was optimistic. A lot of people must have got soaked. You could see the rain glistening on the bearskins.
But, above all, what will be remembered by those in Westminster Abbey and those watching at home was that it was the most exquisite concert.
While the world’s dignitaries, the great, the good and the very good, were filing into their seats, Bach was being sung by the Monteverdi Choir conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
That was followed by the musical director of the Royal Opera House Antonio Pappano conducting an orchestra installed high above the nave, playing pieces composed by Judith Weir, Master of the King’s Music, who studied at King’s College Cambridge, The Planets by Gustav Holst, William Walton’s Crown Imperial and I was Glad by Hubert Parry.
New pieces specially composed included Make a Joyful Noise (a phrase from the Old Testament) composed by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and two compositions by film score composer Debbie Wiseman including Alleluia sung by The Ascension Choir with gospel singers hand-picked by King Charles.
The Gloria by William Byrd (a secret Catholic at the court of Queen Elizabeth I) was sung in Latin.
The Byzantine Chant Ensemble sang in Greek in memory of Prince Philip, and The Kyrie was sung in Welsh by Bryn Terfel.
South African singer, Pretty Yende sang Sacred Fire specially written by composer Sarah Class. Yende, who is black, grew up under apartheid.
Like King Charles, she was very close to her grandmother. During breaks in their long walks to church her grandma would open the hymn book and teach her the songs.
She was then told to sing them for the congregation.
She told The Guardian: “I was very shy but I didn’t want to disappoint my grandmother.” Sarah Class, a jazz pianist, was born in Watford and has played at Ronnie Scott’s and the Cannes Film Festival.
Other coronations may have been an ordeal to sit through. This one was a joy to see.
The choir area was laid with a royal blue carpet, contrasting with the red lampshades and the choir’s white surpluses over red cassocks.
The red ceremonial chairs were placed on a gold carpet in the section of the abbey called coronation theatre. It was a setting for the best musical performances you could wish for.
It’s fascinating see what people wear when something special is required.
It’s no longer considered ok to comment on women’s clothes at these occasions. Once we would have been told all about the cut and the fabric as they came into view.
Until the 1980s we might have been told how many sequins were sewn on each dress, as in Come Dancing, but not now – and not by Huw Edwards guiding us through the ceremony.
Still, the three most understated outfits were worn by Brigitte Macron, a very pale pink fitted dress and matching coat with big buttons on each side of the coat from shoulder to waist, Akshata Murthy, who wore a light blue fitted dress with short sleeves and Jill Biden in a powder blue two piece with straight skirt and fitted jacket.
Camila’s flowing gown, embroidered at the cuff with emblems from the four countries of the United Kingdom, glittered when she moved, flattered her shape and was designed by Bruce Oldfield. Kate, the Princess of Wales wore (under her formal robes) an ivory silk dress designed by Alexander McQueen and her daughter Princess Charlotte, who looked as if she was really enjoying the day and knew exactly what was going on, wore an eight-year-old’s version of something similar.
Charles, who you could imagine planning the proceedings, made a point of inclusivity. This was the first time that faith leaders from all Britain’s major religions would take part in the ceremony.
After the anointing with holy oil (done behind screens because this is a private covenant between a king and his God) the giving of the regalia: the stole, the orb, the sceptre, the glove, was performed by, as it were, a broad church.
Lord Naren Patel, a Hindu and former chancellor of the University of Dundee, presented the ring.
The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who walked to the abbey because the ceremony was on shabbat, gave a blessing.
Lord Indrajit Singh, Sikh journalist and broadcaster, presented the gauntlet, and a Muslim, Lord Syed Salah Kamall, a former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, presented the bracelets of sincerity and wisdom.
The Robe Royal, conferred by Prince William, was brought forward by the Jewish Baroness Meron, Gillian Joanna Meron, a Labour peer.
The traditional parts of the ceremony were powerful in what appeared to be a modern context. Hearing a sudden, enthusiastic burst of chanting of Vivat Regina Camilla! Vivat Rex Carolus! Vivat Vivat! (May the Queen live! May the King live!) was a step back into history.
Hearing the joyous, soaring sound of Handel’s Zadok the Priest “Long Live the King, God Save the King, May the King Live for Ever for Ever for Ever” composed for the coronation of King George II in 1727 and played at the coronation of the late Queen Elizabeth II was stirring.
It was hard not to be moved, even if you do think the idea of one family being kept in a gilded cage – and an old lady being expected to keep working when she is 96 is absurd.
King Charles made his coronation as delightful, as entertaining, and as inclusive as any could be while still honouring traditions going back a thousand years.
His guests included household names: Ant and Dec, Joan Armatrading, Lionel Ritchie, not because of their celebrity but because they are ambassadors for The Princes Trust, which has helped over a million young people since Charles founded it in 1976.
The crown looked heavy and uncomfortable.
Camilla put her hand to her head several times to adjust her hair, which it had displaced. Perhaps they too have doubts about parts of the ancient ritual.
But when Charles said: “I come not to be served but to serve” you felt he meant it.
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