As a teenager, I was lucky enough to be in the Royal Gallery to watch the procession of Queen Elizabeth II at the glorious State Opening of Parliament. It’s the closest thing I’ll ever get to the feeling of what it might be like to watch the Coronation up close.
The Queen, at that point, still wearing the Imperial State Crown, was dressed in a white court dress, her train being carried by four page boys in full scarlet coats and white court breeches. I remember so clearly the horror, the real surprise, the state ceremonies and the full discussion. No visit to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels could match having those stones flashed on her head, under the full heat of the television lights.
Comedy and tradition are at the heart of our national life — we demand a good show, it’s part of the contract — but the Coronations are different. They are like a hyper-version of a wedding, only that the main character is getting married in the country and, like all good weddings, they reflect changing trends and times. In 2023, we have a blended family; Two divorcees remarried, reuniting, and bringing with them the drama stepchildren, stepchildren and the whole family.
However, fashion is at the heart of the whole event. Saturday is the ultimate lesson in power dressing – and they’re more costumes than clothes. When a hospital opens, or a school visit, the threads of the Princess of Wales are visible – the iconography she wears is vital to the Wales Brand and the Coronation. Even when it’s scaled back a bit, the Coronation will still rely on the traditional function of clothes to establish Catherine and William as rock-solid heirs we can count on.
We don’t have a preview of what she’ll wear, but I’m sure tradition will be firmly in place. I gather that even until last week, senior members of the royal family were still asking the Palace if anyone will be wearing crowns, before the U-turn confirmed that they all will.
There is the issue of Harry and Meghan – the ghost at the festival, even if Harry is there, hidden behind a bullet. Despite being high in the line of succession, there is a side player who is despondent, saddened by exile
Kate’s ability to wear white is unbeatable, so I’m hoping for a high priestess-meets-Dynasty white McQueen dress. Prince George is a page to his grandfather and I imagine they will stick to that traditional scarlet page court dress, a continuity linked back to the late Queen.
My bet for a change is Charlotte and Louis wearing tartan as a nod to keeping Scotland in the fold. No doubt they will be nervous – it’s a lot of attention for little people, but they are well trained. As a child, I went to big events with my parents, but until I was old enough to realize their importance, I just rolled with it. For me, Wales is central to the whole show. After the earthquake Harry had spareKate and Wills and their offspring present the face of a stable, unified family — contemporary parents, but with a comforting nostalgia for Laura Ashley.
The rumor that Kate is ditching her tiara for a flower crown is unfounded, I hope. She will have done away with the old court style of white ostrich feather plumes in the hair in case she too watches Downton, but a head full of diamonds is definitely mandatory.
The Marchioness of Derry was taking too long in one of the toilets of the Abbey, and it was somehow discovered that a drop of her tiara had fallen into the pan, and that it had to be fished out with force
Concerns about the optics of tiaras are nothing new. In 1902, at the Coronation of Edward VII, there was an early ban on the tiara, which was quickly overturned for fear of looking too ordinary. At the same coronation, the Marchioness of London was taking too long in one of the toilets of the Abbey, and it was discovered that somehow a drop of tiara had fallen into the pan, and that fishermen had to spear (I know, forceps – every event is attended to at a coronation, even the birth of a child). Those with headpieces, or ‘my hats’ as the late Queen would say, should have them firmly sewn into their hair. Back in the day for State Openings, I remember peers popping their tiaras in Tesco bags, so they were less likely to get robbed en route, and going to Neville’s on Pont Street to get them tied.
The Foundation at every coronation asks me about how the look reflects the idea of the monarchy. Still benefiting from the OTT coronation excess that George IV didn’t say, William IV in 1831 was so frugal that it was called the ‘Penny Coronation’, because everything was rented, borrowed or reused. It was as high as it could get, and it played well to the cash-strapped public. Charles III’s clothing differs in terms of clothing; the King wearing any new ceremonial clothes, cling to the weather, and promote sustainability. His uniform has been like that for years — all the shoes are repaired, and the old Saville Row suit is changed. When Prince William helps his father into the embroidered Imperial Mantle, remember that it was made in 1821 – which screams more than wearing a cape for 202 years.
Peers have now been instructed that they may wear their Coronation robes and their proper crowns, as the whole suggestion of lounge attire has been universally denied. Even if the Great Lord Chamberlain admitted that most of the ermine is a little nibbled, it must look like a coronation – dial down too much and the gloss becomes. The King wearing a military uniform rather than court trousers and a gown is a good update, otherwise he could end up looking a bit vaudeville.
If your zip fails at any time, you are literally left hanging out in front of your monarch
The late Prince Philip, for the former Chamber of Deputies
The grandeur of the State’s image is to give them the old crown — it was baked in by the Edwardian Crown. Edward and Alexandra were the first truly performing monarchs, they understood the need for theatre. During her Coronation, the public was blindsided as brand new electric lights were suddenly switched on when the coronation took place, which meant that, earlier in the ceremony, several Duchesses were knocked out by the heavy pile of carpet. robes stuck to him like Velcro.
I am sure that members of today’s Royal family will have learned from Edwardian theater philosophy. We live in the most visual age: our eyes crave and consume content. Charles always wanted to be an actor, and Camilla is his perfect supporting actress, and they don’t underestimate the State performance they are there to portray.
There will be plenty of elephants in the room. It is only the source of the treasures, although the exclusion of the controversial Koh-I-Noor was the right call. The growing noise of the republican movement seems to be much louder this time. It was there in the fifties, but they didn’t have the help of TikTok to amplify their sound. I know that Welsh nationalists feel that Wales is under-represented.
Then there is the issue of Harry and Meghan – the ghost at the festival, even if Harry is there, hidden behind a bullet. Despite being high in the line of succession, there is a side player who is despondent, saddened by exile. Meghan would most likely be met with royal deaths if she did come. I noticed that one of the eight Windsor Gray horses pulling the state coach is called ‘Meg’. Make of it what you will…
My father was Deputy Chamberlain of the House during the last term of John Major’s government, or Deputy Pot Chamber as we called him, and a weekly audience with HMQ, as long as you followed the rules ‘success, including. dressing the part. My advice to the guests of the Coronation comes from Prince Philip, who told my father, on his first day at the Palace, that he hoped he had got the memo about his hatred of skips at Court, demanding button flies on morning coat trousers — as he said if your zip fails at any time, you are literally left hanging out in front of your monarch.
The establishment plays well when you’re in the thick of it – dress the part, change your actions to suit the times, and stick to your guns. Could it be the last Coronation with this level of tradition? The King is famous for his dandy flourishes as male commentators suggest, but William doesn’t like to dress up, and it shows in his personal style. The Crown’s heavy jewelery may feel too old-fashioned for him when it’s his next turn. He could instruct the monarchs of Sweden, who have the crown next to them on a cushion (which Charles did when he represented his mother as Prince of Wales).
In a post-Covid world, where athleisure is universally depressing: what we need is Kate in heels, diamonds, and velvet acres. I hope the Abbey will give us the full view. What Coronation should be after all, but a high level attraction – dressing up and putting on a visual feast, with a healthy amount of symbolism thrown in. God save that ermine…