Nina Simon: The Coronation, the King and Me

SLS UKInterview

Nina Simon

Nina Simon BEM
Redbridge SLS

Last year I was overwhelmed to receive a BEM for my services to education in Redbridge.  I had a truly wonderful time, being given my medal at the Tower of London and then attending a Royal Garden Party.  I never imagined the excitement would continue this year with an invite to the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.

My Experience attending the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla

It was just another workday, when an email popped into my inbox from ‘Honours Mailbox’ inviting me to the King’s Coronation.  My first reaction was “is this a scam’? On confirming its authenticity, my next thought was “why me?’  

Only when the ornate invitation, edged beautifully with flowers, insects and birds slid through my letterbox, did it actually dawn on me that I was going to be sitting in Westminster Abbey, witnessing this momentous historic occasion.

Saturday 6 May 2023 began very early.  The instructions said to be in Victoria Tower Gardens at 7.15 in the morning and the Abbey doors would close at 8.30am.  Anxiety that I’d oversleep meant I woke several times during the night and was wide awake five minutes before my alarm.  At least I had plenty of time to put on my posh frock, do my hair and makeup and have a leisurely breakfast.  It would be a long time till lunch – a sandwich I’d squeezed into my smart new handbag the night before, along with an umbrella, which would be very welcome later.

My brother-in-law had offered to drive me to Blackhorse Road station, saving me a walk and the need to change trains.  I got off at Pimlico and briskly made my way to Victoria Tower gardens.  The queue already snaked across Lambeth Bridge.  Everyone waiting was very friendly and I chatted to a nurse called Gloria until it was time to go through security and into the Abbey.  A very smooth and efficient transition to the inner sanctum.

The sheer vastness of the historic Gothic building, founded in 960AD with its stone walls, high arched ceilings and stained-glass windows, set the tone of solemnity and opulence of the day.

Even though it was a three hour wait till the start of the Coronation service, time passed very quickly. From where I was sitting, in the front row of the North transept aisle, I could just about see the thrones, the pulpit and the solid gold plates that were propped against dark wood to the side.  In front of me was a big screen so everyone could see the proceedings.

People watching was on another level.  As well as spotting Ant and Dec, Lionel Ritchie, Jay from Repair Shop, Dame Floella Benjamin and the Chief Rabbi, Rishi Sunak also walked past me, escorted by a sword carrying soldier.  It was surreal watching some of the dignitaries entering the Abbey on screen then seeing them in person as they sat down to my left. I loved observing the splendid array of colourful outfits people wore, some in national dress, yeomen in red with their swords, others in red and yellow uniforms with satin britches, staff in their hands. Such a vibrant contrast to the background stone walls.

South African soprano, Pretty Yende, wore a spectacular yellow dress that looked as if it had wings. She performed Sacred Fire, a new piece written by the British composer Sarah Class for the occasion.  Her voice soared to the rafters and touched everyone.  A beautiful, moving start to the formalities. Throughout the service, I felt the organ’s vibrations as sound echoed through the vast space.

The whole Abbey watched, hushed by the enormity of centuries old rites and rituals, transposed into the modern world as King Charles was anointed and crowned King. Each carefully chosen item, used in the ceremony to symbolise an important part of the monarch’s reign and power, moved me as did the craftmanship of the garments the King wore.  The opulence and majesty of the two purple crowns emphasised the weight of responsibility of the position the King and Queen swore to uphold.

The service ended with two rousing verses of God Save the King as King Charles and Queen Camilla left the Abbey.  The formal part of the coronation was over, and it was time to go home, images, sounds and impressions still vivid in everyone’s minds.

You can follow Nina Simon on twitter @sls_UK and @RedbridgeSLS