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‘I’ll be reading a book’: Nottingham public indifferent to King Charles coronation

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Chris Booth spent much of Tuesday morning supervising the installation of a crown 4.2 metres wide on the stone columns at the front of Nottingham’s Council House.

The crown had been brought out of a council depot (where it is stored alongside a vast goose that appears annually for the Nottingham goose fair), repainted and had had its plastic pearls retrofitted with LED bulbs so they can be lit up at night.

For a while, the team of six men using scaffolding and a cherrypicker lift struggled to reattach the cross and orb to the top of the crown, but by 2pm it was in place and firmly secured with six ratchet straps. “It’s a very nervous time. A lot of stuff can go wrong,” said Booth, an operations manager with John E Wright & Co, a signage company.

In the Old Market Square in front of the building, a few people took out their phones to take pictures but most people walked by, indifferent to the council’s coronation preparations.

Polling suggests the Midlands is the area of Britain where people are least moved by the coronation. When asked in a recent YouGov survey “how much do you care about the forthcoming coronation of King Charles”, 41% of people in the Midlands said they cared “not very much”. In Scotland, 45% of those polled said they cared “not at all”, but attitudes in the Midlands revealed widespread ambivalence.

The city’s muted excitement levels are reflected in the number of applications for street closures so that coronation parties can be held. Nottingham city council has received applications for 10 street parties, about half the number of requests made before the queen’s jubilee last year.

Balloon seller Billy Davy
Balloon seller Billy Davy in Nottingham city centre. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Billy Davy, who has been selling novelty balloons all over the country on and off for 30 years, sold about 200 during last year’s jubilee celebrations but does not expect to shift so many next week. “I’m not sure this one will be as good – I don’t think it’s as big an event,” he said.

Eddie Hall, busking with his guitar in the square as the crown was installed, said he had little interest in the coronation. “I might have a little glimpse of it but I’m not mad on them,” he said. “I don’t think people should have privilege from their birth – it’s what you do, not your birth, that should matter. I wouldn’t protest about it, but I don’t agree with it, it’s outdated.”

Busker Eddie Hall
Busker Eddie Hall: ‘I don’t think people should have privilege from their birth.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Over the decades, the royal family have visited Nottingham dozens of times. The queen came here on at least 10 occasions. Princess Anne reopened the Theatre Royal after a refurbishment in 1978. On a rainy day in 1985, Charles visited with Diana, waved from the Council House balcony – just below where the fibreglass crown is now hanging – and had a seafood buffet lunch inside. He received a fire officer helmet from the Nottinghamshire fire brigade before returning to London in a plane he flew himself.

In 2009, Charles was in Nottingham again to unveil a plaque at the headquarters of Boots the chemist “to commemorate his visit during our 160th anniversary year”. These trips do not seem to have left an indelible impression, and most people struggle to say what precisely the royal family has done that has had a positive impact on the city.

Joanne Roe, who works for HMRC in customer insights, was walking through the flattened site of the former Broadmarsh shopping centre, a gloomy area of the city where many department stores have closed and a number of homeless people had gathered, some with sleeping bags slung over their shoulders. Black-and-white images of Nottingham from the queen’s 1953 coronation tour show a more vibrant, less desolate city centre. Roe was not sure that the coronation celebrations would act as much of a boost to the local economy. “Will the coronation bring money into the country? If it does, that money won’t come to Nottingham,” she said.

Joanne Roe
Joanne Roe: ‘I might have it on in the background.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

She was uncertain about when the coronation was due to take place. “Is it on Saturday? If I’m at home, I might have it on in the background. I’m slightly monarchist, but not massively. I don’t have any negative feelings towards them. They are not a meaningful part of my life,” she said.

The only royal visit that seems to have stuck in people’s minds was the trip made by Prince Harry and Meghan in 2017, their first official appearance after announcing their engagement. Sam Harrison, a visitor services supervisor at Nottingham Contemporary gallery, was working that morning. “People in the streets outside were electrified, craning their necks. It’s not surprising – they were superstars on a global level,” he said.

He was unsure whether the coronation would provoke similar levels of excitement. “My mum really wants to watch it. If I’m off work, I’ll ask her to come over and watch it with me. I am a republican, in principle, but I wouldn’t say the monarchy is a burning issue for me.”

Sam Harrison
Sam Harrison: ‘I wouldn’t say the monarchy is a burning issue for me.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Gauging opinions on the monarchy, as pollsters know, requires the question to be carefully worded. When asked if she supported the monarchy, Samiha Zahin, 20, a microbiology student at Leicester University, said yes. “I think it’s cool to have princes and princesses, but I wish William was going to be king, he’s younger,” she said.

Asked if the cost of the coronation was excessive and if the royal family represented value for money, she, like most people questioned, became more negative in her responses. “£100m? They should just spend £1,000 and have a nice small family gathering, and say: OK, now you are king,” she said.

Samiha Zahin, centre right
Samiha Zahin, centre right, in front of the Council House. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

The council has organised a temporary reopening of Nottingham Castle over the coronation weekend and is selling 1,500 tickets at £1 each so that people can watch the event on a big screen. William Catherall, 78, a retired engineer, said he had no desire to attend.

“I watched the last coronation, I was about five, at a friend’s house. About 20 people, mainly ladies, were all jammed into this front room in front of a tiny television,” he said. “I won’t be watching this time. I was brought up to respect the royal family, but I have lost that respect – all the scandals, particularly Andrew. I’ll be reading a book in the garden, I won’t be glued to the television.”

At a politics class at Bilborough sixth-form college, on the western fringes of the city, student attitudes to the monarchy initially echoed this ambivalence. Of the 20 students there at the start of the class, no one wanted to describe themselves as a monarchist but only two identified themselves as firm republicans. Ten raised their hands to the suggestion that they felt neutral (the remaining seven did not want to commit even to indifference).

Student Axl Nicholls
Student Axl Nicholls: ‘We’re paying a lot of money for a coronation.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

But as the conversation progressed (and a few more firmly anti-monarchy pupils turned up late), more students expressed firm opposition to the crown, in line with polling showing that support for the monarchy is lowest among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Axl Nicholls was troubled by the royal family’s ties to a history of colonising other countries, thinly hidden beneath the veneer of the Commonwealth. “I also think with the state of the economy, the fact that people are using food banks and workers are feeling they have to go on strike, we’re paying a lot of money for a coronation. In the last year we’ve had a jubilee celebration, a funeral and now a coronation. There’s a lot of bad media around the family, particularly Prince Andrew. I just feel like it’s not necessary – what’s the point of it?”

Oliver Brown
Oliver Brown: ‘He’s quite old to be becoming king now.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Another student, Oliver Brown, said: “I hate to say it, but the elephant in the room is that he’s quite old to be becoming king now. I can’t say he represents me; I struggle with his age.”

Three-quarters of the A-level students said they would not be watching the coronation, and not all of the four people who said they were going to coronation parties were motivated by patriotism. One student said she would be helping at a Salvation Army street party, which was “more of a celebration of community than the monarchy”.

Rachel Vernon was looking forward to attending a “Fuck the King” anti-monarchy party on the Friday before the coronation. “Some people are doing things with British flags, Vivienne Westwood-style; I’m going to go as the Tiger King, Joe Exotic,” she said.

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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