Patrick Doyle on the daunting task of composing King Charles III’s Coronation March

 (Michael Carlo)
(Michael Carlo)

Patrick Doyle vividly remembers the very first time that he met King Charles III – and to be fair, it might be difficult to forget an incident this hilariously mortifying in a hurry, with or without a future monarch being present.

Back in 1988, the Scottish composer’s opening night nerves suddenly deepened when he learned that the then-Prince of Wales was to attend the premiere of 12th Night at West London’s Riverside Studios. It was directed by Shakespeare veteran Kenneth Branagh, and starring Frances Barber and the late Richard Briers as Viola and Malvolio; Doyle had composed the music.

“I was playing the piano, and conducting a small orchestra on stage as part of the production,” the composer recounts. “There was a light on top of the piano which lit my music,” he continues, with rising horror, “and as the [house] lights came down I started to play the piano. It was a very…robust piece. Halfway through, I couldn’t believe my eyes; I saw the lamp, slowly coming towards me. It fell off the piano! It pulled off all the music, it was all over me.”

Amid a deathly silence, Doyle jokes that he saw his entire life flash before his eyes as he frantically scrambled to re-order the hopelessly jumbled sheets. “In desperation I shouted, really loudly, ‘has anybody seen Page 1?’” As the place erupted, Doyle spotted the now-King in “fits of laughter”.

“I thought, Oh, my God, I’ve survived,” he laughs. “Afterwards he came up to me backstage, and he was still laughing.”

A couple of years later, the King personally wrote to Doyle to express his admiration for the composer’s film score for Henry V. He also asked him to write a bespoke new operatic piece, The Thistle and The Rose, to mark the Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday.

 (Michael Carlo)
(Michael Carlo)

His Majesty later invited him to Highgrove to discuss The Thistle and The Rose, in the days before sat-nav. Doyle’s wife Lesley kindly offered to accompany so that she could map-read from the passenger seat, and then quietly waited behind while the pair met. When the King discovered “Mrs Doyle” was waiting in the car, he was adamant that she join them.

“So she comes in, and we have another cup of tea,” Doyle smiles. “He really showed a very generous, honest and open personality.”

When Doyle received word that he had been invited to compose a coronation march for the King’s official ascension to the throne, he was humbled.

“It was completely thrilling,” he says. “An unbelievable honour. It was also quite terrifying and intimidating,” he admits. “It’s the first coronation march in 70 years. This legacy of great composers who have gone before me – Elgar, Purcell, Walton – was very daunting. I just had to get my head down, and get on with it!”

Though he admits it’s usually a struggle to get going on his biggest pieces, the coronation march hit like a rare bolt of creative lightning. While lying sleeplessly in bed, mostly worrying about “what the heck” he was going to do, two trumpet melodies suddenly struck, seemingly from nowhere.

“Every note I had in my head then is in the piece,” he says. “It doesn’t always happen that way, and a lot of it comes from hard slog.” When these mythical moments do occur, he’s eternally grateful. In similar fashion, one of his more “crazy” marches for the score of the film Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire was inspired by a roaming five-piece band that stormed into the French restaurant Doyle was dining at for a brief performance.

Doyle composed the score for Bridget Jones’ Diary, among other hit films (Paramount Pictures)
Doyle composed the score for Bridget Jones’ Diary, among other hit films (Paramount Pictures)

Once the outline for the coronation march was in place, he adds that his own personal impressions of the King also influenced and shaped his approach. “It was written to commemorate his life, and is what I would call an overture march. It’s in four sections, and they’re very identifiable,” he says. Beginning with ceremonial pageantry, Doyle explains that the piece will shift towards a “strong Celtic influence” before moving into a fun, joyful third section. Finally: “the final section is very romantic, because I think he has a great love of the arts”. The approximately four-minute composition culminates in a triumphant finale, and will play during the entrance of the Commonwealth procession.

Doyle is perhaps best known for his film scores, including now-iconic compositions for classics like Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sense & Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, and Goblet of Fire. Though the coronation represents a slightly different challenge, it’ll still have plenty of cinematic qualities – and the meticulously choreographed event will be watched by millions.

In any case, Doyle points out that many of his greatest scores also unfold within fairly tight time constraints. “I’m accustomed to writing within a timeline,” he reasons. “There’s a time limit, but it doesn’t sound squeezed, and it has a life of its own. In a filmic sense, that was a connection.”

In just a few weeks, he will have the privilege of witnessing his own march being performed live at the coronation itself – Doyle has been invited to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. “I’ll be in the morning suit,” he says.

“It’ll be incredible to hear my music up in the organ loft, with the wonderful acoustics of that incredible ancient building,” he says.

“I’m in a very privileged position to be asked to do this. It’s a great honour.”

The Coronation of King Charles III takes place on May 6