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In My View by Eric Musgrave: The UK is in a right royal mess

Eric Musgrave
04 May 2023

The only time I met King Charles III he accused me of being a skiwear salesman.

I suppose there are worse things to be called but the then-Prince of Wales did not endear himself to me with his pronounced lack of charm.

The odd encounter happened 20 years ago at a select private reception connected with The Prince’s Trust. (Yes, I used to be invited to such fancy events).

Long ago I promised myself not to be overawed when meeting any sort of “celebrity”, so when the monarch-to-be reached me in the conversational line-up I decided to quiz him about his sporting endeavours so our brief exchange might be mildly interesting for him (and me).

After chatting briefly about the elbow injury that ended his polo-playing days, I asked him if he was still skiing. “Why, do you want to sell me some ski clothes?” was his slightly snappy and unexpected response.

What a bizarre reaction.

Eric Musgrave

Eric Musgrave meeting the then Prince Of Wales in 2003

On a much, much larger scale our sovereign has made another mis-step with the extravagance of his coronation, which is due to take place a few days after I am writing this column.

I appreciate he has waited a very long time for his Big Day. I can accept also the requirement, if that’s the word, for lots of pomp and circumstance if you agree with the concept of a monarchy in the first place.

But why, I wonder, did Charles declare some months ago the coronation was going to be simplified compared to that of his mother? Might it not have been smart just to keep shtum and not make promises he seems not to be keeping?

Some 12 pieces of music have been commissioned for the coronation. More than 7,000 military personnel will be involved. An astonishing 11,500 police will be on duty on the day. And we will all have the opportunity to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles III.

I cannot help but think he (and his advisors, if he has any) have misread the room here, to use a modern idiom. Has he not heard of the cost of living crisis?

I have been surprised by two things surrounding the coronation. Firstly, the number of supporting flags, posters and lines of bunting I have seen in even unlikely places such as charity shops. Secondly, the outpouring of very critical observations (mainly on social media) about the king himself, his family by extension, and the monarchy as an institution.

As in so many other aspects of life, the United Kingdom is severely and bitterly fractured on this topic.

The pageantry of Westminster Abbey and The Mall seem a very, very long way from the post-industrial towns of the north I have been visiting lately as part of a project to photograph some old shop buildings.

The economic degradation in places like South Shields, Ashington, Dumfries and Whitehaven are literally a depressing reminder this country has many deep-seated social problems that are appalling to witness in 2023.

I despair of any political party offering any sort of sensible and credible vision or policies to begin improving the poverty that afflicts thousands of our communities and millions of our citizens.

I am sorry to see the fashion industry also reflects this economic schism too, not least with too many bosses paying themselves vast salaries while shopfloor and warehouse staff have to get by on the so-called Living Wage or little more.

In retrospect Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 marked the beginning of a post-war economic revival (clothes rationing had been ended only four years before). I doubt very much King Charles’ anointing on 6 May will be remembered in the same way.

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