When King Charles III read his first ever Christmas message to the nation, the new monarch made sure to acknowledge an issue currently front of mind for most people in the UK — the cost of living crisis.
Speaking of the “great anxiety and hardship” felt by those struggling to “pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm” this winter, Charles’ holiday season broadcast included footage from the country’s food banks and meal services supporting individuals and families in need.
It was a topic he couldn’t have ignored. With the UK facing its longest recession since records began — all against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine — 2023 is set to be one of the country’s most challenging years in modern history.
But it seemed rather hypocritical for the King to express sympathy and concern for difficulties faced by the nation he serves when, just a week prior to recording his message at Windsor Castle, he had quietly made a dramatic u-turn on plans for “cut-price” coronation celebrations.
Back in September, Palace sources confirmed that Charles wanted a ceremony that would not only reflect his vision for a more agile and modern monarchy, but also a “less expensive” one in light of the country's ongoing economic struggles.
At the time, many praised the head of state for rejecting the opportunity to drain limited resources from the government. Charles, we were told, had expressed a wish that his 6 May coronation should be considered “good value” by the British taxpayers helping fund it.
But despite a coronation committee sallying forth with plans, three months later it has been decided by the King and ministers to ditch the leaner celebrations and go full fat.
A larger scale event, it was decided, will be a great “advertisement” for the UK and a chance to showcase the “very best” of the country on the world stage, according to sources. (And, I would imagine, much-needed PR after the failure of Brexit and our revolving door of leaders.)
Prime minister Rishi Sunak described the bigger coronation as a “unique moment for the country”. It was added that all involved, from the relevant government departments to the King himself, were in “lockstep in their determination to deliver” a spectacle to remember.
When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, it cost the nation £1.57m — today’s equivalent of £51m ($61m). For Charles, using the cost of security at events such as previous royal weddings as a benchmark, I calculate the figure could be inching closer to £100m ($120m) when factoring in the sophisticated operation it will require.
Despite the estimated increased cost, Charles’ ceremony will be shorter and last between one and two hours (as opposed to his mother’s three-hour event) with rituals considered outdated or cumbersome cut to allow for the reduced run time. There are also expected to be far fewer attendees at the 2023 coronation: 2,000 compared to 8,000 at the late Queen’s.
The big coronation spend comes less than a year after the nation spent millions on the Queen’s four-day Platinum Jubilee, and just 42 days before another show of royal pomp and circumstance for the monarch's annual birthday parade, Trooping the Colour – Charles's first – in June.
Sure, London’s hospitality and tourism businesses will no doubt benefit from the day King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort are crowned, but it’s unlikely that many outside of the capital will feel the same boost.
“Working people are struggling to pay rent and mortgages and feed their kids. It is utterly crass for Charles to demand a coronation that will be every bit as extravagant as the last one,” says Graham Smith, chief executive of anti-monarchy group Republic. “The coronation isn’t necessary, he is already King. This is all about promoting the monarchy and satisfying his ego.”
Or, in other words, “Let them eat cake”, as Queen Marie Antoinette famously uttered after being told the peasants had no bread to eat. Because, an alarmingly high number of those same teachers, health and social care professionals Charles praised in his Christmas speech are currently queueing up at food banks due to lack of pay rises and government support. And many of those charities the King credited for helping those struggling with food and heating bills are, right this moment, facing collapse due to overwhelming demand.
While there is certainly a justifiable argument for a coronation of sorts – after all, this is a historic occasion – ramping up the cost and size of the spectacle while the UK faces unprecedented pressures on public spending appears extremely out of touch. It is a decision that fails to position King Charles as a man that truly understands the people he has spent the first four months of his reign meeting and connecting with — and one I think he may end up living to regret.