The Queen reveals her 'horrible' coronation day memories

by Fiona Rae / 18 March, 2018
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The Coronation, Sunday. Photo/Getty Images

When the Queen saw the crown for the first time in 65 years, she couldn’t tell the front from the back.

Her Majesty is not impressed in The Coronation (Prime, Sunday, 8.30pm), which looks back on the day in June 1953 when she was crowned queen of all she surveyed and a bit more besides.

The crown, made in 1661 and set with 444 jewels, “weighed a ton”, and the Gold State Coach, in which she was transported from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, was “horrible”.

In fact, the Queen, who has never spoken about her coronation before, says she remembers her father’s coronation in 1937, when she was 11, “much better” than her own “because I wasn’t doing anything”.

She does concede that attending one coronation and being part of another is “pretty remarkable”. At 91, she is the longest-reigning British monarch, having been in the job for 66 years.

At her coronation, she was seen as ushering in a new, modern Elizabethan age, so perhaps it’s appropriate that the curtain should finally be drawn back on the secrets of the coronation ceremony.

The programme particularly focuses on the history and meaning of the crown jewels and the regalia of the coronation ceremony: the crown, the sword, the sceptre and the orb. Their purpose is known, but the real revelation is the secret holy oil with which she is anointed during the ceremony.

The Queen has not seen the crown since 1953 and it is transported from the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace especially for the programme. It’s an extraordinary work of craftsmanship, having been made for the coronation of Charles II. It weighs 2.23kg.

The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Crown Jeweller are the only three people allowed to handle it. The Queen has a good old poke around, remarking that “it’s impossible to tell the front and back”.

It’s not the only crown on display: during the ceremony, St Edward’s Crown, as it is known, is replaced with the equally blingy Coronation Crown of George IV, which the Queen wears for state occasions.

Royal expert Alastair Bruce discusses the lead-up to the coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, which seemed to galvanise the whole of post-war Britain, and its military-precision organisation by the Duke of Norfolk.

There are reminiscences from choirboys and the maid of honour who nearly fainted during the ceremony, which was attended by 8000 people, including a full orchestra and choir. “It was a very long day,” says Her Majesty.

This article was first published in the March 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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