HMMA Secretary, garden writer and lover of pomp and ceremony, George Hoad AM, is our self-appointed UK correspondent. He reports from London for HMAA where his attention has been divided between glorious tulips, the royal coronation spectacle and catching a few shows (both garden and theatrical)!
I flew into London on a glorious spring day and was greeted with bright blue skies and a city filled with an air of excitement and anticipation. A city buzzing with activity, of preparation, a city filled with more people than I have ever witnessed in my almost 40 years of visiting. Of course, all this preparation and all these people were here for just one thing, the Coronation of King Charles lll.
On that first day, after checking into my hotel, I took my usual route, a visit to Trafalgar Square, St James Park and The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace. Loyal supporters of the monarchy were already camped out along the Coronation’s procession route, staking their claim to the best vantage spots. Grandstands were being constructed, barriers erected and for everyone’s entertainment, rehearsals of marching bands were taking place.
The gardeners had also been busy preparing for the big day, timing the floral displays in the adjoining parks to be at their peak. The red tulips outside Buckingham Palace and the many other colours and combinations on display were indeed ‘fit for a king’. Spring was also evident in the parks with trees budding up in leaf and flower, and families of ducks preening in the sunshine.
The forecast for the big day, like the past four coronations, was for rain and like a good boy scout, I packed accordingly. I left the hotel early to secure a good viewing spot and ended up in Trafalgar Square near the corner of Whitehall. The grey skies did nothing to dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands who had come to see this historic event. People of all ages and nationalities crammed the processional route. The fact that I was standing in poo courtesy of mounted police horses, although not desirable, did not deter either.
Security was tight as you’d expect with many thousands of police and security officers managing the crowds. In addition, 9000 service men and women lined the route and took part in the event, the military’s largest ceremonial operation since Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation.
After about two hours on my feet, the Gold State Coach carrying the King and his Queen, made its way from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, giving us our first glimpse of the royal couple. Two and a half hours later, following the coronation ceremony, the entire royal party returned to the Palace, proceeded by a dazzling display of pomp and pageantry – 19 marching military bands, the Household Cavalry and hundreds of service personnel. As luck would have it, the steady rain that had fallen for several hours, eased just in time for the procession to pass and a sea of cameras to get that perfect shot. The excitement in the crowd was palpable with cheers of goodwill and many shouting ‘God Save The King’.
My days and nights in London were also filled with some great theatre shows, visits to iconic institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the National Gallery, the British Museum and British Library plus a few weekly antique markets, but the highlight was undoubtedly that soggy Saturday in May where history was unfolding around me.
George Hoad AM