On Saturday May 8th our country will celebrate the coronation of His Majesty King Charles. And it’s safe to say many things have changed since Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953.
Food rationing was still in force from the war, the lucky ones huddled around neighbours’ televisions to watch the ceremony which was, for the first time, broadcast live by the BBC (the only TV channel at the time) . In 1953, almost all those taking part in the day were white and male. Multi-generations of families, almost all scarred by the war, lined the route and stayed overnight for a glimpse of our new monarch in the magical golden state coach.
As we get closer to the coronation of King Charles, we hear news of how this coronation will be different: shorter, more diverse. This is exemplified by the fact new music by composers of the day will be blended with the pomp and circumstance of the past. The King clearly intends to reflect not the country of the past but the country we are today. The coronation is the first in my lifetime, and it will be watched all over the world. We have a precious chance to show our nation at its best and celebrate not just a new ruler but a new voice, advocate and ambassador for us – someone who will give us the opportunity to shine, at home and abroad.
A royal visit is often the highlight of most municipal careers, for officers and elected members alike. The preparations are substantial but the opportunity to have a visit from the King is a chance to celebrate what is good in our communities, to highlight the work you do, to put your city, town or village on the map, and to allow the wider community to celebrate your work.
The coronation will have similarities to that in 1953, and the Juliblee that followed it, and it gives us an opportunity to bring people together. I have long been a fan of the ‘Big Lunch’ but I am always reminded when I attend a street party that so often this is the first time that neighbours have met each other. We cannot put a value on the community engagement taking place over the long weekend and how brilliant it is that we have the Sunday to celebrate together in our local neighborhoods. I still remember my son walking around a street party, part of the big lunch in Surbiton. He was only 4 but he was greeted at every garden gate warmly and offered the chance to try different foods and refreshments that families had made to share. He quickly made friends with other children of his age and they played games put on by the organisers made possible with the road closure, and I had the chance to talk to other parents and families.
I met someone I knew and she immediately introduced me to her next door neighbor. They had lived next door to each other for 4 years and that was the first time they had been able to share food and talk. Bonkers right? But it’s true. We all want to live in a community but it’s the hardest thing to achieve. We live such different lives, involving long hours, and we face as many challenges today as those who celebrated in 1953 (even if those challenges look different today). Getting us all together over the long coronation weekend is a fantastic opportunity to get people talking, laughing and eating together.
We face some seriously difficult challenges. They will not go away overnight ; in the coming decades we will continue our journey of evolution and the King – like his mother before him, will share those highs and lows with his Christmas speeches, help shine a light on the good in our communities by his visits, and honour those whose work selflessly for the communities they serve or live in. As head of state, the King gives us an opportunity to bring our communities together, work together for a better future and celebrate what we have achieved.
After all, symbolically, every time the ceremonial mace is lowered into its resting place before the Mayor (often with the monarch’s portrait behind them) and with the Mayor calling the meeting of the Full Council to order, the King is with you, helping put the interests of our public you serve at the front of all decisions made.
4th May 2023