LONDON — At least 25 anti-monarchy activists and other protesters were arrested on the morning of King Charles III’s coronation Saturday, a reminder that not everyone in the United Kingdom has been swept up in the royal adulation dominating TV screens.
Six people from the anti-royalist campaign group Republic and 19 environmental activists from Just Stop Oil were detained by the Metropolitan Police in central London, near to where Charles was being crowned, according to the groups.
For free speech campaigners and some onlookers, it was a chilling scene, even on a day where polls and anecdotes suggest that apathy — rather than royal or anti-monarchical fervor — is the prevailing mood in Britain.
Hours earlier, London’s Metropolitan Police tweeted it would “deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration.” This is off the back of Britain’s ruling Conservatives passing legislation that limits demonstrations that it deems “disruptive.”
“Is this democracy?” tweeted Republic, the anti-monarchy campaign group whose members were detained. “So much for the right to peaceful protest #NotMyKing #AbolishTheMonarchy.”
On Saturday, police said via Twitter that one group of demonstrators had been arrested on suspicion of “breaching the peace,” another of “conspiracy to cause public nuisance,” and a third of “possessing articles to cause criminal damage.” Police said they also seized lock-on devices, which demonstrators use to secure themselves to infrastructure.
The Metropolitan Police, which is facing a crisis of public confidence after an official report in March found it to be institutionally racist, misogynist and homophobic, declined to provide further details on the detentions.
“While everyone is focused on a billionaire in a shiny hat, the government is signing off on plans to destroy the lives of millions of ordinary people,” said a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, whose disruptive direct actions have ranged from blockading oil refineries to gluing themselves to the frames of valuable artworks.
“We will continue to do whatever is nonviolently possible to end new oil and gas,” spokesperson Mel Carrington said in an email.
One of the activists arrested, Kush Naker, 33, who is a doctor of infectious diseases from London said, “I never thought in my life that I would be terrified that the police might arrest me for protesting peacefully in the U.K. But that is now the state we are in.”
Soon “North Korea” was trending on British Twitter, with people comparing Britain’s heavy-handedness with the autocratic communist country.
Meanwhile in Scotland, which is generally less royalist than England, thousands of supporters of Scottish independence marched through the streets of Glasgow, some of them chanting “you can shove your coronation up your a---.”
These hardcore anti-royalists do not represent the majority of modern Britain. But neither, according to recent polls, are the avid monarchists who lined the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace and cheered Charles and Queen Camilla as they passed in a golden carriage.
The prevailing mood appears to be one of apathy.
Pollster YouGov conducted a weighted survey of 3,000 adults last month, finding 35% of people said they didn’t care “very much” about the coronation — and 29% said they didn’t care “at all.” Meanwhile, general support for the monarchy has “fallen to a record low,” a study by the independent National Centre for Social Research found last month.
For many, the royal opulence is a bad-taste juxtaposition with what’s really going on in modern Britain: Economic hardship for millions who saw the ruling Conservative Party dealt a heavy blow in local elections this week.
Whether motivated by Britain’s grim economic outlook, Charles’ lower popularity numbers than his late mother's, or, as is most likely, a combination of the two, royal mania hasn't gripped Britain in the same way as it did during events when the late queen was on the throne.
Most royal experts don’t believe the monarchy is about to crumble. But many agree that support, visibility and relevance do matter for the royals. The alternative is that people look at the golden carriages, the multimillion-pound crown jewels and the palaces, and ask: What is this all for?
Further evidence of this apathy can be seen in the dozen or so coronation events around the U.K. that have been canceled because of a lack of demand for tickets. That’s according to a Facebook search that is likely a small sample of the actual total of abandoned parties.
Under gray skies and British drizzle, a green space on London’s King’s Road that had been set aside for coronation picnics was still empty by midday (7 a.m. ET). On the A12, a busy highway linking London and the neighboring county of Essex, motorists were greeted with a large spray-painted banner reading “DOWN WITH THE CROWN.”
Around 180 miles west of the epic pageantry in London, on Wales’ remote and wild west coast, putting on a royal event seemed like a slam dunk, particularly after the popularity of a similar event for the queen’s jubilee last year. The plan for Aberaeron Yacht Club was to have a traditional “tea by the sea” — “tea” in this instance meaning an “afternoon tea” comprising sandwiches, scones and of course that quintessential British gin-based cocktail, Pimms, all for 17 pounds (around $21).
“Limited tickets are available, so book early to avoid disappointment!” the poster said. That was far from the case.
“We put an advert out but I don’t think we had half a dozen responses,” said Amanda Harvey, 59, the club’s bartender. “People like the royals but I don’t think Charles is as popular. The queen’s jubilee last year was sold out — this time it’s been a different story.”
Across Britain, streets are decked with Union Jack flag bunting and royalist displays in shop windows, but the decor is noticeably more muted and scaled back than at the queen’s platinum jubilee last year, when it seemed as if the whole country was festooned in paraphernalia.
There are more than 600 street parties, according to the official coronation website. But many seem to be more of an excuse to celebrate a long holiday weekend and share a drink with neighbors, with only a passing mention of Charles in the event blurb.
Lily Blue Gifts, a store in Hagley, in central England, also summed up the inclusive, royal-agnostic theme: “Whether you’re a true royalist or just love a party with a theme and an extra day off work, we’ve got you covered.”
In Hackney, London’s famously hipster east London borough, an “Alternative Coronation” celebration was already underway at Chats Palace arts center at 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET). This event was far more centered on celebrating those attending rather than showing any subservience to the king.
“We all deserve a crown!” its flier said.
“The idea is it’s a safe space for all families in Hackney to come together, no matter what shape or size your family is,” said Perdie Bargh, a producer of the event, which includes arts and crafts, a royal photo booth and a drag queen storytelling show.
Did Bargh put on the event because she’s a royalist?
“Listen, I’m a producer and I love a theme,” she said. “And this is a great theme!”