Images of the new king may be blanketing Britain, but many in the country are more focused on navigating a cost-of-living crisis than celebrating a dysfunctional royal family.
When King Charles III is crowned on Saturday, he will undergo a ritual so rare in modern British history that it last occurred 70 years ago, roughly the wait between sightings of Halley’s comet. And yet the coronation has yet to capture the imagination of a Britain preoccupied by other concerns.
Images of the new king — in chocolate, in Legos and in wax — are popping up in bakeries, toy stores and at Madame Tussauds wax museum. Ancient relics of coronation, like the Scottish stone of destiny, are being delivered to Westminster Abbey for the ceremony. Charles and his queen consort, Camilla, are rehearsing every step of the service in a specially staged room at Buckingham Palace.
But in a recent poll of 3,070 adults in Britain by the market research firm YouGov, 64 percent of respondents said they had little or no interest in the coronation. Only a third said they were strongly or fairly interested in it. Among those aged 18 to 24, the number voicing little or no interest rose to 75 percent.
“Love for the royal family has sort of declined,” said Jason Abdalla, 24, an information technology worker outside a pub last Friday in the exclusive Mayfair neighborhood of London. “It feels like appreciating the monarchy is an older, more mature thing. I mean, my parents are into it. They love the royal family. It’s ‘take it or leave it,’ for me.”
There are other, less generational explanations for the lack of excitement, like the rainy spring weather, which may loosen its grip in time for the May 6 ceremony, and Britain’s economic doldrums, which have focused public attention on the cost of bread rather than what cynics might label bread-and-circuses.
Then, too, there is the contrast between King Charles and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Her coronation in 1953 introduced a poised young monarch who was thrust on the throne by the death of her father, King George VI, and became a beloved icon. At 74, Charles is a familiar figure, one whose foibles have been dissected in the news media for decades and who still presides over a dysfunctional family.
A King Charles III made of 73,412 Lego bricks in Hamleys toy store in London. Such images of the monarch have been put up in stores and other popular sites across the country.Credit…Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“He is not a romantic figure like she was,” said Ed Owens, a historian who has written about the interplay between the monarchy and the news media. “He is a complex human personality whose private life we know a great deal more about than we did with the queen in 1953.”
Whereas the queen’s coronation symbolized a new start for the country and the royal family, Mr. Owens said, Charles’s coronation comes after a period of family feuds that has left the House of Windsor divided and diminished.
“He’s inheriting a crown that has been shaken by events over the last five years, and tarnished by those events as well,” Mr. Owens said.
Last week, the king’s younger son, Prince Harry, was behind yet another airing of the family laundry. In a filing in his lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper group for hacking the prince’s cellphone, Harry disclosed that his older brother, Prince William, had received a “huge sum of money” to settle phone-hacking charges against the company, News Group Newspapers.
Harry said he had been discouraged from pursuing his own litigation because of a secret deal between the palace and News Group. The palace, eager to rehabilitate the reputation of Charles and Camilla after the breakup of his marriage to Princess Diana, was determined to keep the favor of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloids.
The timing of these revelations — however unwitting on Harry’s part, given that he does not dictate the schedule of legal cases — is likely to dash any lingering hopes that Harry will repair a yearslong rift with his brother and father when he attends the coronation, according to royal watchers.
Whether Harry would show up at all was a mystery, but one addressed this past month with the announcement that he would, but that his wife, Meghan, and their two children, Archie and Lilibet, would stay at their home in Montecito, Calif. Archie’s fourth birthday is on Saturday, which some said gave Meghan a ready excuse.
Prince Harry, center, King Charles III and Princess Anne during the procession of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin in September.Credit…Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters
The guest list, however, has drawn other criticism. The Daily Mail singled out a few under the headline, “Invitations to Put You Off Your Coronation Quiche,” referring to the occasion’s official dish, made with spinach, broad beans and fresh tarragon.
Among the foreign dignitaries planning to attend is Han Zheng, the vice president of China, whom China hawks in Britain condemn as one of the masterminds of the 2019 anti-democracy crackdown in Hong Kong, a former British colony. Mr. Han is an ally of President Xi Jinping’s and would be his representative.
Also on the list is Michelle O’Neill, the leader of the Irish nationalist party, Sinn F?in, in Northern Ireland. The Mail noted that Ms. O’Neill’s party had historic links to the Irish Republican Army, which assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, an uncle of the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, in 1979.
Sinn F?in has expressed regret for the killing of Mountbatten, and Ms. O’Neill, in accepting the palace’s invitation, said the world had changed. “I am an Irish Republican,” she posted on Twitter. “I also recognise there are many people on our island for whom the coronation is a hugely important occasion.”
President Biden has declined an invitation, instead sending his wife, Jill, who plans to bring with her their 23-year-old granddaughter, Finnegan. That has caused anxiety among American diplomats in London, who worry that the royal family and the British government will take umbrage because the invitations are for V.I.P.’s.
Mr. Biden just completed a fleeting visit to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which he followed with a longer tour of the Republic of Ireland, where he celebrated his Irish American roots. British officials have expressed no complaints — Dwight D. Eisenhower skipped Elizabeth’s coronation, after all — and the king has invited Mr. Biden for a state visit to Britain later this year.
Not everyone is approaching the coronation with a shrug. Janet Waterston, 61, who was visiting London from her home in Henley-on-Thames, said she expected a “jubilant atmosphere,” not least because the government has given the country a day off on Monday after the ceremony.
A crowd, including protesters, awaiting the arrival of Charles and Camilla on a visit to Liverpool on Wednesday.Credit…Pool photo by Jon Super
Still, royal experts said it was inevitable that many Britons would view the coronation with a more gimlet eye this time around.
“In 1953, Britain was a very deferential society,” said Vernon Bogdanor, an authority on the constitutional monarchy at Kings College London. “Now, it’s a competitive society, based on people who’ve earned their position through achievement. Therefore, the monarchy is bound to attract more skepticism.”
Buckingham Palace is sensitive to the changing attitudes. It has cut back the procession route between the palace and Westminster Abbey from that taken by Elizabeth in 1953. That has the benefit of sparing central London from gridlock while also ensuring that the crowds lining the streets do not look sparse.
The ceremony itself has also been modified to account for a more diverse ecumenical country. Though many of its rituals still date back more than 1,000 years, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, who will preside over the service, has added several innovations to make it more inclusive.
Leaders of non-Christian faiths will present Charles with items of regalia that are not Christian in nature. The archbishop will invite millions of people from across the nation and Commonwealth to pay homage to the king, a rite that was reserved for the hereditary aristocracy at Elizabeth’s coronation. And before he leaves the Abbey, Charles will pause for a greeting from a group of non-Christian religious leaders.
For some expatriates living in Britain, the “soft power” of the monarchy cannot be underestimated. But appealing to a younger, more diverse population is a longer-term project than a single ceremony.
“I think that they have a strong brand, as a monarchy, and if they translate that into value to British society, then it’ll be fine,” said Marta Sauri Lopez, 36, a native of Spain who works for a private equity firm in London. “Probably the Commonwealth has a lot to say there,” she continued. “So, if the monarchy does manage to maintain the Commonwealth as unified, that’s a massive bonus.”
As for the coronation itself, however, Ms. Sauri Lopez, like many Britons, viewed it mostly as a welcome holiday. “I don’t mind,” she said, “but I also don’t care.”
Buckingham Palace has shortened the coronation procession route to Westminster Abbey from that taken by Elizabeth in 1953.Credit…Joanna Yee for The New York Times
Saskia Solomon contributed reporting.