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The mind-shattering boredom and bemusement of watching a man be crowned king

Attending a celebration of the monarchy simply makes it more incomprehensible.

Carl Kinsella reports from London

GIVEN THE SHEER scale of the attendance, I expected the Hyde Park coronation fanzone to be abuzz with excitement.

On the way in, it seemed to me an unholy throng of people. It felt like a capacity Croke Park crowd. Lined with food trucks, people picnicking despite the rain, and a palpable sense of dehydration, the set-up was little different to a music festival. 

Only there was no music. No singing. No buzz of any kind. Nobody was paying any attention to the big screen – on which the entire ceremony would be broadcast – while it showed the eight living Prime Ministers filing into the Westminster Abbey.

Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia were shown similar disinterest. Instead of doing any journalism I found myself writing chants for the ignored world leaders (My lover’s got no money, he’s got his Albanese).

Then: Prince Andrew. Dry as a bone. I braced myself. Surely. Surely now the crowd would react. There are simply so many things one could say, or scream, or chant about this man. There was nothing. Maybe it was up to me. Maybe they’re just waiting for a leader. Maybe they’d regard me as a hero. I thought better of it.

The announcer kept it to one line: “A rare public appearance for the Duke of York.” Indeed.

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Even the arrival of Prince Harry, a now much-maligned figure for his choice to publicly criticise his family, was completely ignored.

I thought hard about how an enormous Irish crowd would react in a situation like this. Gathered tens of thousands strong, with access to beer, watching divisive public figures in fancy dress on a big screen.

I believe it would be messy, it would be funny. It would be, for want of a better word, mad. This was none of those things.

The first cheers – cheers which I would describe as respectful, or polite – were for the king’s golden chariot as it began its journey from Buckingham Palace, and for the arrival of William and Kate. There was also a crowd-wide rendition of God Save The King that briefly triggered my fight or flight response, but soon that, too, was over without much fuss. 

The ceremony began, and any illusions I’d been under that the British would be watching in wonderment, with rapt attention, or tears in their eyes, were snuffed out for good. This was mass, plain and simple. I was at mass. English mass, outside, in the rain.

By 22 minutes in, I was praying for Just Stop Oil to storm the abbey and throw soup over the orb. Please, God, just let them soup the orb.

Having failed to obtain a programme, I didn’t know which parts of the ceremony would be best for me to skip out on and go have a wander. I chose my moments carefully. When the third person started repeating the spiel about “paying homage” I decided I was probably safe to explore. 

I walked from the very front of the crowd to the back, standing in different spots and striking up very few conversations. I asked one woman, probably without the necessary journalistic tact, why she liked the monarchy so much. My tone must not have been great, because her immediate reply was “The best strategy is: if you don’t have anything nice to say, best not to say anything at all”. 

While Twitter was excited by all sorts of things – Penny Mordaunt holding a big sword, Charles reading one of his oaths off a card, Charles getting stripped off and oiled to the Champions League music – the atmosphere in Hyde Park remained muted. Pleased. 

Part of me had hoped the crowd would cheer the orb in the same way the world fell in love with the little car that drove the ball out onto the pitch during Euro 2020. No such luck. Maybe if they’d had the little car bring him the orb. 

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Less than an outpouring of national pride, it seemed more so that this was just something for people to do of a Saturday morning. A reason to come together and (I use this term loosely) celebrate.

It was impossible not to be struck by what society could accomplish if it came together for something useful, or productive, in the name of pretty much anything other than a man riding through town in a golden chariot that he won in a lottery of birth. 

It’s not a very profound sentiment, but it was a hard one to ignore. Between the plastic union jacks bearing the logo of The Sun, a small girl in a Camilla Parker Bowles mask that I will see in my nightmares until the day I die, and the utter lack of atmosphere, I couldn’t help but wonder what this was all for. Why anybody would be content for society to be arranged this way and not some other way. 

Before the ceremony had even begun, protestors were arrested for ‘conspiracy to cause public nuisance’. They hadn’t even started protesting yet. This was in keeping with the Metropolitan Police’s strange midweek announcement that their ‘tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise’ would be ‘low.’

That background might provide something of a context for the strange atmosphere in Hyde Park today. It is hard, consciously or otherwise, to be enthusiastic about something you have no say in. How much can you truly love a monarch?

Maybe it’s a cultural quirk that, as an Irishman, is simply beyond my grasp. On today’s evidence, I am fine with that.

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