Britain celebrated the start of the King Charles III era on Sunday with more than 67,000 street parties, a star-studded concert broadcast around the world and far more enthusiasm than many people expected.
A day after their crowning at Westminster Abbey, King Charles and Queen Camilla kept a low profile on Sunday, but millions jammed parks, city streets, backyards and village halls to celebrate in a nationwide event called the Big Lunch. The number of picnics and parties exceeded the expectations of organizers who saw it as a sign of the country’s growing affection, or at least respect, for the 74-year-old king and 75-year-old queen.
Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak got into the act by hosting a Big Lunch at Downing Street, with his family, Jill Biden, the wife of U.S. President Joe Biden, and her granddaughter. The families gathered at a long table set up outside the famous No. 10 black door and feasted on cheese and pickle sandwiches, smoked salmon and the King’s coronation quiche, which has received mixed reviews.
Amid the celebratory mood in Britain, however, there was growing criticism of the tactics used by London’s Metropolitan Police during Saturday’s ceremony.
Police used new powers under a recently adopted Public Order Act to detain dozens of protesters. A total of 52 people were arrested for “offences including affray, public order offences, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance,” the Met said.
Many of those targeted said they were engaging in peaceful demonstrations and they accused the police of overreacting. Graham Smith, who leads an antimonarchy group called Republic, said he and five other members of the organization were arrested while handing out signs in Trafalgar Square.
“Make no mistake,” Mr. Smith said after his release late Saturday night. “There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the U.K.”
The London borough of Westminster was also seeking answers as to why police arrested three volunteers from its Night Stars program, which helps vulnerable women.
Police said they went after people carrying rape alarms that could be used to disrupt the ceremony. However, the council said the volunteers regularly hand out the alarms as part of their outreach program. “This service has been a familiar and welcome sight in the West End for a long time and have extensive training so they can assist the most vulnerable on the streets late at night,” the council said in a statement.
Commander Karen Findlay, who led the coronation operation, said the Met understood the “public concern following the arrests we made.”
“Protest is lawful and it can be disruptive. We have policed numerous protests without intervention in the buildup to the coronation, and during it,” she said in a statement. “The coronation is a once in a generation event and that is a key consideration in our assessment.”
There had been concerns among coronation organizers that there wouldn’t be as much interest in the Big Lunch as there was for a similar event held during last year’s Platinum Jubliee for Queen Elizabeth. However, by Saturday the non-profit group that runs the program, called the Eden Project, said more than 67,000 picnics and street parties had been registered for the long weekend. That far exceeded the 17,000 Big Lunch parties arranged during the Jubilee.
“It’s just nice to be part of the ambience,” said Shannon Freeman as she sat on a bench with her friend, Melinda Martin-Khan, in London’s Regent’s Park, where more than 650 people gathered for a coronation picnic. So many people turned up that organizers ran out of tables and chairs, forcing Ms. Freeman and Ms. Martin-Khan to eat their lunch on a park bench.
Ms. Martin-Khan, 55, who lives southwest of London in Exeter, had organized a weekend of coronation activities for Ms. Freeman, 45, who is from Prince George, B.C., and travelled to Britain for a conference. They tried to get to The Mall on Saturday to watch the royal procession but were turned away by police because the site was too crowded. On Sunday they hoped to join the Big Lunch event at Regent’s Park only to be surprised at the turnout.
In one London borough – Kensington and Chelsea – city officials said 47 neighbourhood associations held parties on Sunday and many more had informal gatherings. “It’s been amazing,” said Kim Taylor-Smith, the deputy lead councillor as he toured a packed street party on Gloucester Road that included a steel band and a line of food trucks.
Brandon Dodriol, 32, flew to London from Orlando, Fla., to visit friends and watch the ceremony. He managed to get near the front of the barriers on The Mall on Saturday and caught sight of the King and Queen waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. On Sunday he was dressed in a jumpsuit decorated in British flags and wore a gold plastic crown as he mingled with people in a street party on Needham Road in west London.
“I love it,” he said of the monarchy. “I love global history and European history, and all that.”
His friend Amy MacDonald, 29, who lives in London, said she was a big fan of the royals and loved the coronation ceremony. But while she believes that Charles, who is 74, will do a good job as King, she would rather see 40-year-old Prince William on the throne.
“I loved the Queen and I think William is great, Charles is kind of …” she said, trailing off with a grimace. “That sounds awful but I think it’s at the stage now where they do need to bring some younger people forward because the monarchy is so old school.”
The coronation ceremony, with all of its pageantry and tradition, scored well with television viewers.
Figures released on Sunday showed that the entire event – from the service in Westminster Abbey to the royal procession afterward and the flypast by military jets – was watched by 20 million people in Britain. The TV audience peaked at 20.4 million when Charles was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Abbey service. However that was roughly nine million lower than the number of people who tuned in for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth last September.
The BBC also broadcast a special coronation concert from the grounds of Windsor Castle Sunday night that featured a live audience of 20,000 people. King Charles and Queen Camilla attended the event with family members, and the performers included singers Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Take That, Steve Winwood and pianist Lang Lang.
At London’s Regent’s Park, Robin Black had barely seen much of the coronation hoopla. She’d been too busy organizing Sunday’s picnic, something she’d suggested on an impulse a few months ago to fellow volunteers at the Friends of Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill association.
“I’m a royalist and I thought it would be a really nice thing to have a party,” said Ms. Black, 68, who moved to Britain 30 years ago from Mississauga, Ont. “I suggested it to our committee and they said, ‘Fine, you do it’. So I got to it.”
She strung up bunting, hired a band, organized face painting for children and arranged prizes for the most patriotic pudding and most patriotic pooch.
There were enough tables and chairs for 660 people, but by noon on Sunday so many families had shown up that Ms. Black had to turn many away, or at least encourage them to find a spot on the nearby grass. Many picnickers brought small British flags and wore crowns. Others toasted the monarch with bottles of champagne and one family had a cake decorated in the shape of the Union Jack.
Ms. Black said she grew up in a Canada steeped in the Royal Family. A photograph of the Queen hung in every school classroom and she and her classmates sang God The Save Queen every morning. The monarchy “was part of your daily life,” she said.
She felt almost compelled to do something to honour the coronation of King Charles, for whom she has huge respect and high hopes. “Charles is so forward-looking and he’s an environmentalist,” she said. “A lot of people used to laugh at him, and I don’t think there is anything to laugh about.”
Despite her attachment to the monarchy, Ms. Black is realistic about the future of the institution. She said she understands that Canada and other countries could eventually move to an elected head of state. Even Britain could follow suit.
“You never know,” she said. “Societies change so much, who knows?”