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Operation Golden Orb: London flooded with crowds and police for Charles III coronation

Just as Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee helped energize the nation, Saturday’s event will provide a boost to national pride at a time of crisis and runaway inflation

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A group of women camp out on The Mall near Buckingham Palace on May 5, 2023.MAJA SMIEJKOWSKA (REUTERS)

The British monarchy always comes to the rescue, with its pomp and circumstance, of a United Kingdom in the doldrums. If the celebration of Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee served to encourage a nation just out of the pandemic and scandalized by Boris Johnson’s parties and half-truths, the coronation of his son, Charles III, will serve to extol the essence of what it means to be British in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, runaway inflation and a Conservative government hit hard at the polls — local council elections were held in England on Thursday — with inevitable signs of wear and tear after a decade in power.

There are no official figures, but estimates by various media outlets suggest that Operation Golden Orb will cost more than €120 million and involve a security deployment of 11,500 police officers. Thousands of Britons have been flooding the streets of London these days. The surroundings of Buckingham Palace are a festival of flags, tents and all kinds of patriotic symbols. The BBC broadcast is expected to attract hundreds of millions of global viewers.

Metropolitan Police officers gather on The Mall ahead of the coronation of King Charles III in London Saturday.
Metropolitan Police officers gather on The Mall ahead of the coronation of King Charles III in London Saturday.Charles McQuillan (AP)

Yet the processions before and after the religious ceremony, and all the liturgy that will take place inside Westminster Abbey, will be noticeably more modest than those that took place in 1953, during the coronation of Elizabeth II. Compared to the 8,000 guests then concentrated in the Anglican temple back then, on Saturday there will be about 2,200. The number of nobles and lawmakers asked to the event has been drastically reduced to make room for doctors, nurses, volunteers from charitable organizations, and social workers.

Charles III will preserve an ancient tradition —the first coronation dates back to William the Conqueror in 1066— but with touches of modernity to reflect a United Kingdom with a greater plurality of religions, more diversity and less attachment to any one faith. There will be representatives of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, although the head of an eminently religious ceremony will be the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Police officers outside Westminster Abbey in London on May 5, 2023.
Police officers outside Westminster Abbey in London on May 5, 2023.ODD ANDERSEN (AFP)

The liturgy and the deep political-religious background of such an event (only two British kings have not been crowned: one after being beheaded; the other after abdicating the throne out of love), what is clear is that London is having a party. And not just for the king and the more than 1,000 guests of the banquet at Buckingham Palace. The British capital has been taken over by tourists who are taking up positions at The Mall, the great avenue that runs from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square, flanked by Saint James’s Park on one side and by a multitude of palaces on the other. Fans who call themselves royalists have been camping out here since Monday to watch the procession that will take Charles and Camilla to and from Westminster Abbey.

Valerie and Neil, a couple in their seventies, arrived at The Mall on Wednesday. Sporting fewer pieces of British flair than other people around them (who wore glasses, capes, flags, coats and any imaginable garment or accessory with the national colors) these two defined themselves as monarchists and, what’s more, Carlists. “I trust him,” said Neil earnestly. “I think he will be able to do as well as his mother.” “Yes, but it won’t last that long,” added Valerie in amused tones.

Volunteers handing out the official program. From left to right, Patricia, Mar, Salma and Saray at The Mall.
Volunteers handing out the official program. From left to right, Patricia, Mar, Salma and Saray at The Mall.María Porcel Estepa

Throughout the city, shops, museums, hotels, art galleries and even banks and supermarkets are decorated in honor of Charles and Camilla. The British capital seems more crowded than ever these days, partly because several of its squares and main arteries have been closed and traffic diverted, but also because London is practically full, with hotel occupancy rates of 96%, according to CNN. The Center for Economic and Business Research, based in London, estimated that this weekend visitor spending will increase by €385 million.

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