Who really has a say in the coronation conversation?
On the 2nd of June 1953, Britain looked different. Still in the early days of post-war immigration, and two decades away from joining the EU, Britain’s first televised coronation displayed British tradition from a country grudgingly opening its doors. 70 years later, the spotlight centred on how King Charles III’s coronation would attempt to reflect a modern, multicultural Britain, now consumed through TV, Twitter and TikTok.
Much has been made about the 'diverse' nature of the coronation. The event featured several Black and Asian people in prominent roles in the ceremony. Senior Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish representatives were also included in the coronation to express the King’s desire to be viewed as a defender of all faiths, rather than just the Church of England. Commentators and guests alike have celebrated the coronation as indicative of a more inclusive future.
How this ‘modern Britain’ feels about the coronation and the royal family, in general, is far more divided. A recent YouGov poll shows that younger Britons are significantly less likely to want to keep the monarchy than their elders, and are more likely to be embarrassed of the monarchy than proud. For many people of Black and Asian descent, the royal family are inextricably linked to the ever-present effects of empire and colonialism.
Despite the ‘diverse’ programme, the royal family’s troubled relationship with race and imperialism was evident throughout the coronation; from the parading of Commonwealth leaders and British overseas territories, to the use of South Africa’s Cullinan diamond in the King’s regalia. Many may find it hypocritical to applaud a diverse celebration from a family that wasn’t inclusive enough to support and protect the Duchess of Sussex – who was notably absent from the occasion (with her husband reportedly hidden by a hat).
As the royal family emerged on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, the actor Adjoa Andoh remarked on an ITV broadcast: “We have gone from the rich diversity of the Abbey to a terribly white balcony”. Regardless of her being factually correct, she faced backlash as viewers took to social media outraged that she chose to focus on race. Drawing 4,165 complaints, her comment became the most complained about broadcast moment of the year. Clearly, diversity was a topic reserved for self-satisfaction.
In our recent Diversity & Confusion report, we highlighted that the UK workforce has grown more confident in talking broadly about diversity but still actively avoids conversations about human identity – particularly when it comes to race, religion and socio-economic status. We also reported that for underrepresented groups conversations about ED&I can be particularly nerve-wracking and frustrating. The coronation serves as a reminder of how diversity is valued; through performative gestures rather than nuanced conversations.
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was televised in an effort to modernise the monarchy and make them more visible to the public. With just one channel available at the time, this one-way communication to the masses gave the royals total control of the narrative. Today, people have more control over what they consume. In a many-to-many environment where people are exposed to multiple sources of information, it’s more difficult for narratives to go unchallenged. King Charles’ coronation narrative was set on its diversity merits, but in reality, it is less about what is said and more about what is proved.
In a reasonable society acknowledging diversity is the easy part. Recognising cultural celebrations outside of your own is part of the growth of a multicultural society. But how is that impacted when a cultural celebration is polarising and represents complex societal issues? Is modern Britain, so keenly celebrated for its diversity, open to critical opinions from its 'diverse' faces?
As current trends stand, celebrations of the monarchy will only grow more divisive as time goes on. Instead of back-patting about the diversity of a ceremony, we must reflect on who these celebrations are excluding. If we aren’t nurturing inclusive spaces to express different perspectives in a way that is psychologically safe then our talk of diversity is as symbolic as the coronation itself.