ROBERT HARDMAN: Elizabeth was an impossibly glamorous young queen. How could Charles compete?
Some things never change: the location, the regalia, the rain….
The same goes for much of the music, especially Handel’s peerless Zadok the Priest.
As for the central elements of the coronation service, these go back thousands of years to a time long before anyone had heard of Britain, let alone the House of Windsor.
Yet every coronation is also very different. Less than a month ago, we were glued to the spectacle of Charles III’s coronation, a remarkable moment in so many ways.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla wave to the crowd from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation on May 6
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in 1953
In 1953, Britain was tired, broke and deflated, but confident in finding a new role and a sense of self in a post-war world. And she had an impossibly glamorous young queen. Charles would never compete with that
Here was the oldest new monarch in British history – aged 74 – beaming around the world with a degree of intimacy unimaginable in previous reigns.
How different was that moment from the event that took place exactly seventy years ago today: the coronation of Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.
That is not a reflection of King Charles. Rather, it is a reminder that Britain was a very different country seven decades ago.
The public still required a ration book to purchase certain necessities such as meat. Nearly everyone knew – or knew – someone who lost their life in World War II (if not the First, or even the Boer War).
It had been less than eight years since hostilities had ceased. Many British cities still had craters and bombs between their cracked and soot-stained buildings. Most people went to church every week dressed in what was known as “Sunday best.”
An indication of how long ago this is can be gleaned from the Queen’s choice of makeup artist for the big day. Thelma Holland was not only known for her cosmetic arts. She was Oscar Wilde’s daughter-in-law.
And here was an impossibly glamorous young queen, just 27 years old, taking on what many still called “the Empire” (even if the British Empire had formally come to an end five years earlier, with independence for India and Pakistan).
Britain was tired, broke and deflated, but confident in finding a new role and sense of self in a post-war world. All that hope, all that anticipation, was placed on the shoulders of the dazzling new monarch.
King Charles walks in the coronation procession after his coronation on May 6
Here was a glamorous young queen, aged 27, taking on what many still referred to as “the Empire”
Charles III could never compete with all this and that is precisely why he did not try. We have a different king for a different age
A dazzling new monarchy: the official portrait of Queen Elizabeth and the royal party after her coronation in 1953
To millions, she represented hope and rejuvenation. The fact that she had in Downing Street the greatest statesman of the day – Winston Churchill – only reinforced the idea of a ‘dream team’ that would lead the country to new sun-drenched highlands.
Britain and the rest of the world anxiously watched the unprecedented sight of a monarch being crowned live on television, followed by a procession that wandered through the capital for many miles and several hours.
For the millions around the world who had yet to see even a television set – not least in Australia and New Zealand – a film version would still be playing in packed cinemas for many months to come.
To top it off, on the morning this impossibly exciting celebration of national pride began to unfold, the nation awoke to the most astonishing news: A British expedition had just conquered Mount Everest.
It’s been less than a month since we were glued to the spectacle of Charles III’s coronation, a remarkable moment in so many ways
in 1953, Britain and the rest of the world watched with excitement at the unprecedented sight of a monarch being crowned on live television, followed by a procession winding through the capital
Reflecting on the coronation of King Charles and his late mother, Queen Elizabeth, Robert Hardman (pictured) says: ‘How different that moment was from the event that happened exactly 70 years ago today’
The United Kingdom had achieved the last great achievement left by man at a time when ‘explorers’ were still regarded as national heroes. The Union Flag was now flying on top of the world.
Therefore, like-for-like comparisons between the 2023 and 1953 coronations are meaningless. Charles III could never compete with all this and that is precisely why he did not try.
We have a different king for a different age.
But before we get too nostalgic, think about this for a second. In 1953 life expectancy in Britain was just under 69 years. Today it is 81.
- Robert Hardman is the author of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II, published by Pan Macmillan. Now in paperback