Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman on… the (lack of) significance of the Coronation

Our columnist reflects on the significance of the Coronation and why his opinions of the monarchy have changed over time.

There are four squirrels playing in the lime tree outside my window. I say ‘playing’ in ignorance. They are certainly chasing and occasionally bumping into each other, but  I do not know for certain what they do.

Perhaps they are courting, making love, or pursuing age-old vendettas. There was a time when I would have taken the opportunity to shoot them dead.

In fact, I permanently  kept a loaded air rifle by the loo, ready for the
time a shot presented itself and I could knock one out of the old apple tree on the front lawn. 

When you look at a young squirrel with no hair on its long tail, you can see why; squirrels are imported tree rats who have wrecked things for our native reds (who still can make your heart lift each time you see them).

Rats have an image problem. I have killed them without a backward glance with poison, by drowning, with an air rifle pellet or shotgun cartridge (though never with a rifle bullet). It is always open season on rats. 

I have changed

I have changed, though. I no longer keep any kind of gun, and not merely because I live in a town, where the slightest glimpse of such a thing would cause panic. Nor do I deny the damage caused to young trees by squirrels. I just don’t want to kill them any longer. 

I recognise that losing the urge to kill is a product of age.  It has never been an equal struggle when one of the combatants has a high-powered rifle and the other does not.

But why should some magnificent old stag die merely to provide another set of antlers on the wall, or even a hat stand, however elaborate? The older I get, the more I want things to live and let live. 

But watching the Coronation took me back to the age of 16, when I would have given everything I had for a sub-machine gun with which to start The Revolution. Instead, I acquiesced in this ceremonial tomfoolery even to indulging my taste for purple macarons (the king of biscuits). 

For the event had no constitutional significance. Monarchists like me accept that it is part of the deal that we will be ruled by someone who has done nothing to merit the office, beyond being the product of the right loins.

A coronation is just what happens when a bunch of unelected old people put on a show for which they will not pick up the bill, and for which they think ordinary people will feel grateful.

Add the treacly voices of the world’s dullest broadcasters and you have it. A coronation is the walnut whip piped on top of the centuries-old pudding of monarchy.

I caught a glimpse on the television of my friend, the foodie Matthew Fort, but I did not envy him – his invitation was bought at the price of having the King turn up to dinner. There was a practical consideration, too. Though the music was wonderful, four hours is a long time and only for those with bladders of cast iron.  

It’s easy enough if you’re an organiser – you just throw in another marching band and let the fawning broadcasters intone reverently about how many inches there are to separate the trombone from the big drum.

I didn’t notice many street parties, which says something about the event’s authenticity, no matter how much the Archbishop of Canterbury claimed it as the work not of desiccated old courtiers but of God. 

And in case the ceremony collapsed in on its own fatuousness, he was wheeled on again at the end to tell us that the King and the Almighty were pals. He might as well have warned the drizzle was a sign of divine displeasure. 

Jeremy Paxman

Written by Jeremy Paxman