The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant promises to bring out the great British cynic in us all


HHow hard is it to come up with a brilliant celebration of great Britishness? It can not be this hard, right? The facts speak for themselves. We are generally recognized for having the most diverse range of crunchy flavors in the western world. We take a handcrafted approach to swearing. We invented a yeast extract that simultaneously acts as a metaphor for societal division. We can make anything socially acceptable by first adding the “cheeky” prefix to it.

Alas, none of these things appear to be included in next week’s Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant – which is billed as “an awe-inspiring festival of creativity” that will “bring iconic moments from the Queen’s reign to life and showcase our change in society over the past 70 years. That job goes to a wealthy and rather uncharacteristically thuggish 65-year-old Etonian, who once dressed as an Arab sheikh and publicly declared he has a crush on Samantha Cameron. He’s the reason I’m a little worried about all this pageant malarkey – and that’s before you even get to the plans involving a flotilla of ‘Dames in Jags’ and a bus carrying the presenter television actor Matthew Kelly dressed like it’s the 1960s.

At the start of the 20th century, Britain was plagued by what has been called “pageantitis”. Visual spectacles that embody national pride and connect the past with the present are all the rage. The most successful pageant master of the time was a man called Frank Lascelles: a writer, painter, sculptor and actor, who orchestrated the London Pageant, with 15,000 performers, in 1910, and the Empire Pageant in 1924. Fast forward to 2012 and another team of accomplished creatives (director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Underworld’s Rick Smith) achieved the impossible with the Olympic Opening Ceremony: shatter British cynicism with a theatrical spectacle offering a tale of national pride that went well beyond the norm and reductive “two World Wars and a World Cup”.

Now consider the Jubilee Pageant, whose co-chair is Nicholas Coleridge – the son of a former chairman of Lloyds of London and descendant of romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Nicholas has lived in the upper echelons of society for decades, whether as an executive at magazine publisher Condé Nast since 1989, chairman of the British Fashion Council and the Victoria and Albert Museum or as a contributor to Tatler , Harpers & Queen and others.

All of those perches in high places – along with his innate self-confidence (he’s been known to use his own initials to describe himself in trivia) – could make him the perfect guy to make the Queen Elizabeth mark in pageant form. But I have the impression that there is a very big problem. Where the Queen is renowned for being a model of discretion, Coleridge seems as discreet as Rebekah Vardy.

He admitted in a FinancialTimes interview in 2017 that Princess Diana’s death meant he had a better table at a fancy London restaurant, Le Caprice. In his memoir published by Penguin, he recalls Diana telling him (after the press published topless pictures of her) how a then 14-year-old Prince William complained that his classmates had teased him that (in Coleridge’s words) his mother’s “t”. *** are too small”. After giving her own opinion on her body shape, she reportedly said, “Thank you, Nicholas…I feel better now.”

To say he comes from another age would be an understatement. He admitted to dressing up as an Arab sheikh in the 1980s as part of what he called his “stunt journalism” for the evening standard. More recently, he said that when leaving sixth graders at a private girls’ school, they should “marry someone nice”. His class-obsessed novels (of course, he writes class-obsessed novels) feature characters such as Ross Clegg, a socialist freezer supermarket owner, and his pasty wife Dawn. And as recently as 2019, he casually admitted in Daily Mail articles to taking notes on the women “I found most and least attractive” at work events he hosted. Apparently, Cheryl Cole was “tiny, not much chatter,” while Lara Stone was “definitely hot” and Pippa Middleton was just “gorgeous.”

Back to the contest. Although we don’t know much about the content yet, adding to the feeling of unease is, well, what we do know the content. Some things look like a medium sized fairground. We are told there will be marching bands, BMX riders, circus acts, a giant oak tree with Maypole dancers. This great British group, Abba, will be represented with a bus with the cast of the musical Mama Mia! There’s a nod to ‘kids’ and suitably uninspired ‘activism’, via a thing called the River of Hope, where schoolchildren will carry 200 flags representing their hopes and aspirations for the next 70 years. I really wish all the young people involved the best and may they make their mark as loudly as possible, because pretty much the rest of the Pageant is dedicated to rich old celebrities, whose caliber I can only describe as “batshit” .

Abba will be pictured with a bus featuring the cast of the musical “Mamma Mia!”

(PENNSYLVANIA)

According to reports in the telegraph, a series of open-top buses marking each decade of the Queen’s reign will pass by, each packed with celebrities seemingly dressed in the fashions of the time. The Sixties Bus will feature Holly Willoughby, Kate Garraway, Stars in your eyes‘ Matthew Kelly and Alan Titchmarsh (who I’m sure will look lovely in a Mary Quant miniskirt). On the 70s bus will be Debbie McGee, Chris Tarrant, Noddy Holder, Dame Esther Rantzen and chef Rick Stein, and for the 80s Daley Thompson, Gary Lineker, Torvill and Dean plus Eammon Holmes.

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Towards the end of the contest, seven “Dames in Jags” will drive along the course: Dame Joan Collins, Dame Arlene Phillips, Dame Floella Benjamin, Dame Darcey Bussell, Dame Prue Leith, Dame Twiggy and Dame Zandra Rhodes. Of note is the slightly myopic range of the Dames. It’s a shame that honored British scientists such as Dame Jane Goodall or Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell couldn’t get behind the wheel.

Other names confirmed so far include Anthea Turner, Jeremy Irons, Gloria Hunniford, Tony Blackburn, Chris Eubank, Bonnie Langford and News presenter John Craven. It is not yet known if Vernon Kay, Wagner of The X factor or the opera singer GoCompare will be there. Organizers are reported to be expecting a global audience of one billion viewers. Taking away a potential 67 million Britons, we could have a situation where 933,000,000 people around the world are asking, “Who is Alan Titchmarsh? Maybe the only person out there with a real global presence in entertainment right now will be Ed Sheeran, who will sing the national anthem. Has anyone else worried that this might be really, really embarrassing?

Ed Sheeran makes an appearance at the Platinum Jubilee

(Invision 2021)

I am English. So I approach these kinds of events with weary cynicism and expectations lower than the bottom of the River Clyde. We all do it, every time. The organizers of the 2012 opening ceremony deliberately toyed with the catastrophic assumption of failure by bringing the audience in to see random sheep wandering around and a few people casually playing cricket – knowing full well they had a parachuting monarch in their back pocket. However, I’m not sure I trust the team behind the Platinum Jubilee Pageant to be this crafty or smart.

A little story from last week illustrates why. Brave and stubborn LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell has been asked to be one of the show’s ‘national treasures’. He declined, in a public response to Coleridge, stating that he was both a lifelong Republican and that: “To my knowledge, [the Queen] has never publicly acknowledged that LGBT+ people exist. A quick search online would have clarified Tatchell’s position on the monarchy. Coleridge recently described the scene at Pageant HQ as “60 employees in headsets on perpetual Zoom calls.” But what are they doing? Getting Eamonn Holmes on a bus? You don’t google Peter Tatchell?

I actually had some sympathy for Coleridge and his team when the Pageant was announced. I knew it would be difficult to walk the thin tightrope between portraying “our changing society over the past 70 years” without being accused of creating a monstrosity wrought by the jackals of the right-wing press. But having seen the state of what has been announced so far, I just think the outcome will be inevitable: they won’t wink at modern Britain at all. Why bother? As a 1946 poster explaining “a typical Royal Pageant” put it: “These pageants, whatever official occasion they celebrate, are impressive reminders of the existence and importance of British institutions”. With the likes of Coleridge – aka the perfect choice to hold a contest for an increasingly cringe country – permanently straddling these British institutions, I have no choice but to remain a very British cynic.

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