I find myself getting increasingly irritated today by a recurring piece of BBC reportage, stating that senior members of the Royal Family will accompany Her Late Majesty’s coffin from Holyrood Palace down the Royal Mile to St Giles’s Cathedral. I find myself yelling at the radio. “Not St Giles’s. St Giles. And, more importantly, not down the Royal Mile. Up the Royal Mile. It would only be down the Royal Mile if they were proceeding from the castle. How can these people be so ignorant?”
And I confess I was irritated on Saturday night to find that the Last Night of the Proms had been cancelled. I perfectly understand that the BBC would not wish to go ahead with the traditional knees-up, but they could easily have changed the format and the tone of the last night. There is precedence here; in 2001, after 9/11, 21 years ago almost to the day, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the American conductor Leonard Slatkin performed the piece that has become an iconic expression of US grief on solemn occasions, Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Orchestral musicians are the most adept and versatile professionals in the world at making changes at short notice. A conductor or a soloist is indisposed; a few phone calls are made to find who is available; sometimes the entire programme is recast one day before the performance. The BBC Symphony Orchestra could quite easily have performed – as somebody put to me – Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, the Elgar Cello Concerto, and Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. Sheku Kanneh-Mason was already booked to play, and the Elgar is in his repertoire. I heard him play it, most beautifully, at a recent Edinburgh Festival. What more natural thing, at a time of loss, than for people to come together and listen to great music?
And I’m even more irritated by a report from The Telegraph on September 10th, by Victoria Ward, royal correspondent, that King Charles III and Prime Minister Liz Truss will tour the UK to “share the grief” of the late Queen’s death. Some reports are dubbing this mini-tour “Operation Spring Tide” though I suspect this is a conflation; I believe Spring Tide alludes to the whole procedure of the King’s accession. No. 10 has been quick to say that the King and the PM will not be doing joint walkabouts in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. I should hope not. At least No. 10 recognise what a toxic mix that would be.
I don’t think I’ll pop through to Edinburgh today to stand on the Royal Mile. Usually I’m a pushover for a piece of pageantry. I quite appreciate a little magical stardust, even if I know it’s not real. I used to sing in the choir of St Giles, and Her Majesty would drop by from time to time. I sang Zadok the Priest to her. It was said to be a piece she admired, but who knows? Maybe she groaned inwardly. Not Zadok again. Anyway I think I will retain that as my last memory of the Queen in St Giles.
But what a difference a week makes. A week is indeed a long time in politics. A week ago today, aeons ago, the Queen was on the throne, and Boris was Prime minister. And now, Spring Tide has been activated. I’m all for Spring Tide as a seamless means of transfer of power. But Spring Tide as an orchestration of public grief, Spring Tide as a manifestation of unity, both political and constitutional, Spring Tide as emotional manipulation: no thank you. It has always seemed to me that within the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the most manipulated of all, the most subjected as it were, are the Royals themselves. Who would volunteer to occupy that gilded cage? King Charles has promised to surrender his charitable work to others, never again – at least in public – to speak his mind. It’s really a form of abuse.
It seems to me that this proposed conflation of a royal and prime ministerial tour, like that of a rock star and his supporting act, is, despite the denials of No. 10, an early attempt by the political establishment to manipulate the King while his antennae may not yet be fully deployed. And yet I have a notion it won’t work. I don’t think Charles will be a pushover. People are asking, what will differentiate the Carolinian from the Elizabethan age? What will characterise Charles III?
God save the King.