Thousands cheer on Charles III as UK coronation party begins

·3-min read
Crowds built up in central London from early morning
Crowds built up in central London from early morning

Thousands of people turned central London red, white and blue on Saturday, with a sea of Union Jack flags lining the streets for the coronation of King Charles III.

While the coronation service was itself a sombre and sober affair, a celebratory atmosphere filled the British capital and beyond, despite wet weather.

Crowds across the capital cheered in unison as the crown was placed on King Charles III's head at 12.02 pm (11:02 GMT), then rushed down The Mall, the grand avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, in order to see the newly-crowned king on the balcony.

The crowd roared and chanted "God Save the King" as Charles and queen Camilla emerged, both wearing their crowns, and then again as the Red Arrows aerobatic team flew over the palace, pumping out red, white and blue plumes.

The most fervent royal fanatics got the party started on The Mall hours before the ceremony began, with some camping out for days to secure a prime spot for the historic event.

As the royal procession passed on the way to Westminster Abbey, a forest of arms rose as people captured images of the king with their mobile phones.

Street vendors joined the hardcore supporters in the clamour to see the monarch's golden coach, with one man bellowing out "God Save the King".

- 'Good vibe' -

But not everyone was in a celebratory mood, with scores of republican protesters -- many dressed in yellow and waving banners saying "Not my king" -- gathered at Trafalgar Square.

"I'm here because I want to protest against this outdated monarchy, I want to protest because you shouldn't be head of state based on who you were born from," said republican Jane, in her 30s.

Hours earlier, London's Metropolitan police arrested several organisers from the anti-monarchy group Republic, in a move denounced by Human Rights Watch as draconian and "alarming".

At Whitehall, the road leading to Westminster Abbey, crowds cheered and waved flags when the carriage with the king and queen passed by.

Among the early birds on The Mall was Caryl Hall, 55, and her teenage children.

"I'm excited. There's a good vibe, good atmosphere -- friendly, happy, patriotic," said Hall, draped in a flag with a plastic crown on her head.

"It was hard to wake up the teenagers but this is part of history," added the South African, who was standing on a stool to get a good view.

Dave Giddings travelled from Scotland with his wife and son.

"It's being part of the future. It's an important thing," said the 41-year-old, sporting a gold crown and Union Jack sunglasses.

- 'History' -

Hillary, 72, and her daughter Jo, 47, caught an early train to join the crowds.

"It's living history. He is never going to be the queen (Elizabeth II) but he is our king and today we just want to celebrate," said Hillary, who only gave her first name.

The pair were loaded up with Union Jack hats, flags and picnic chairs, but in true British fashion were worried about the weather forecast.

Many flew in from abroad, including Christine Wilen, a retired nurse from Niagara Falls in Canada.

"I made the trip for the coronation," the 55-year-old, kitted out in the colours of her native Canada, told AFP.

"I'm very excited to be here, to be part of this history. I've always been a monarchist," she added.

Recent polls indicate waning support for the royals, especially among younger people, but plenty of monarchists of all ages turned out Saturday, including Londoner Caba Mendes, 21.

"It's a great day for the country," he said.

Helen Rimmer, who travelled from Cumbria, northwest England, on Friday night, secured her spot on Whitehall at 4:45 am.

"It's a very special occasion, especially for our country and the Commonwealth. It's the atmosphere, just everything about it really. It's just a big celebration. It's great."