Celebrities from Elton John to Adele have reportedly rejected invitations to perform at the coronation concert in May. The monarchy are still trying to appeal to the mainstream – and still coming up Middle England
February 27, 2023 2:10 pm
It was Prince Philip who suggested that Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 should be televised in order to bring the monarchy up to date and accessible. An estimated 2.5 million people tuned in to watch the ceremony – including the lengthy journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in a carriage made of gold – which was broadcast live to the public on the BBC. It was a success all round: the TV audience outnumbered the radio audience, it brought the coronation into people’s homes, and it caused thousands of people to rush out and buy a television.
The coronation of Elizabeth II’s son, King Charles, will take place on 6 May, 2023, and will be an entirely different affair. Needless to say the media landscape is unrecognisable from 70 years ago – but the monarchy is very different, too. In addition to the broadcast (of a ceremony likely to be slimmed down, at Charles’s request, to one hour, rather than three) there will be a big bash at Windsor Castle with a public audience by ballot, light shows, and celebrity performances. The only problem is that they can’t seem to get any celebrities to attend.
Declined invitations from Elton John, Adele, Harry Styles, Robbie Williams and the Spice Girls are being gleefully described as “snubs” across the papers; the current line-up is thought to comprise the Minogue sisters and a diminished version of Take That. Perhaps there’s a tenuous argument that the absence of these acts indicates a waning interest in, or respect for, the monarchy – but what is arguably more interesting is the fact that the Palace tried to book them in the first place. In a culture of intense celebrity exposure, first-person narratives and viral sharing, the monarchy continues to try to make itself relevant and modern, but still comes up Middle England.
At the time of the Queen’s coronation, the television was cutting-edge technology. That she was only 25 at the time, too, made the whole thing feel fresh. A new era was being ushered in. Even if Charles were to live-stream the event on Twitch from his front-facing camera, there’s not a lot the Palace can do to replicate this mood of authentic excitement. Though many people would very much like the monarchy to be a unifying patriotic force, it simply isn’t. The national mourning period following the death of the Queen may have itself felt unifying and patriotic – but only because it was self-evidently the last event in a period of history when the monarchy still felt stable.
Charles is aware of this, of course. He has already made modernising moves: the shortening of the service, the rumoured inclusion of Camilla’s family, the potential lack – or at least diminished significance – of the not-very-cost-of-living-crisis solid gold carriage. His first act as King was to promise a new, “stripped down” monarchy, with spending cuts and fewer royal titles. Doubling down on these genuine, if small, progressive moves would make the whole thing a lot more “accessible” to the people who currently find it abhorrent. Middling pop performances, on the other hand, will appeal only to the people already stringing up the bunting.
There will be a “Coronation Choir” at the concert, made up of amateur singers from across the country, including refugees, NHS workers and LGBTQ people. This feels like genuine public involvement. The attempt to add “stardust” feels at best incongruous and at worst transparent – and even if Harry Styles had been available to give his most heartfelt rendition of “Watermelon Sugar”, its inevitable popularity would not be because it had converted any republicans: it would simply signal the mindlessness with which we often consume mainstream culture.
When Parliament debated the question of televising the coronation in 1953, one MP asked: “might there be something unseemly in the chance that a viewer could watch this solemn and significant service with a cup of tea at his elbow?” Let’s reframe that for 2023: perhaps there is something inevitable in the fact that a viewer will watch this anachronistic event with the voice of Gary Barlow in his ear.