WE do these things so well.
Coronation day was sacred ritual, national celebration and that peculiarly British brand of royal showbiz.
But more than anything, this was history — living, breathing, flag-waving, 62-gun-salute history, a huge national moment that will be remembered when we are all long gone, a day when the ancient and modern combined as the Crown was finally placed upon the head of King Charles III.
The Coronation was a global commercial for the UK in the 21st century.
But it was also a very real connection to more than 1,000 years of our history, a history that — despite what you may have heard — millions of us regard with fierce pride.
And here was the chance, despite a couple of embarrassing royal relatives and the grumpy protesters whining in the wings, for this bitterly divided country to come together again.
And God knows we need to start coming together again.
What could be more a part of our island story than the Coronation of the monarch?
And yet, in a population of some 67million, almost all of us were witnessing a Coronation for the first time.
The day was replete with timeless ritual, but here was something that almost none of us had ever seen before.
Because of course, it is a lifetime since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne so young.
But the Coronation of King Charles III reflected its time as surely as the last one did a mind-boggling 70 years ago.
We have become a diverse nation in those seven decades. You saw it in the faces of the cheering crowds.
And you it felt in Westminster Abbey, in what is essentially an Anglican religious service.
You can’t wear a gold robe on a bicycle
Four peers representing the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish faiths each presented King Charles III with a token of regalia.
Rishi Sunak, our young Hindu Prime Minister, read a lesson.
The chord it struck was pitch perfect.
It did not feel forced. It did not feel like meaningless virtue signalling.
It felt like Charles — Defender of all Faiths — would be a king for all our people.
In 1953, the truly radical thing about the Coronation was that it was broadcast on that new-fangled TV gadget.
In 2023, the most revolutionary thing about the Coronation was that it co-starred Camilla, the new Queen.
We often hear chatter about the monarchy needing to be modernised but it is happening before our eyes.
His grand-nephew Charles also loved a divorcee, but yesterday Camilla was crowned Queen.
That reflects our changing attitudes to marriage, the monarchy — and Charles.
Among their own ranks the Royal Family have been rather slow in catching up with the mixed-race diversity of our country.
But they have long been enthusiastic participants in our divorce statistics.
And once — not that long ago — it would have been unthinkable that kind, smart, funny Camilla should be crowned Queen.
Today it seemed natural, and inevitable — although when people say “the Queen”, I still think of the lady with the corgis, and I know I always will.
The sheer spectacle of the day took your breath away.
In many ways this Coronation echoed the previous great royal event eight months ago.
The red coats of the marching soldiers, the serried ranks of horses, the Union Jacks on The Mall, the angel’s eye view in Westminster Abbey.
But Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral felt like a death in the family.
Despite all the pomp and pageantry, the Coronation of King Charles III felt like a beginning, a new chapter, a changing of the seasons in our nation’s story.
There was a jolt of disbelief when the nation buried his mother in September.
Like burying a beloved parent or grandparent, it seemed unimaginable that she was gone for ever.
But when Charles received that heavy crown, here was the moment he had been born for, 74 years ago.
Never his wish, always his destiny.
There was not a moment when Charles did not look deeply moved.
When his eldest son William kissed his cheek after swearing allegiance, he was on the edge of tears.
The day went like clockwork, it went like a dream.
In a country where almost nothing works any more, these great royal events always do.
All the clouds that had gathered around the event cast no lasting shadow on the day.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s well-intentioned but excruciating, tone-deaf suggestion that the people “swear allegiance” to King Charles from their sofa seemed irrelevant among the hushed majesty of Westminster Abbey.
Harry’s view was comically obscured by Princess Anne’s magnificent hat — get Oprah on the line!
The eco cranks and republican crusties were out in force, all those sour, middle-class white kiddies waving their little placards, reeking of entitlement.
They tried hard, but they could not spoil the day.
A spring rain fell from a grey English sky. Bearskins dripped. Nobody cared.
Compared to 1953 this was meant to be a “streamlined” Coronation.
There was a shorter procession route, a pared-down guest list, allegedly less Crown Jewels bling on display.
But to those of us who have never witnessed a Coronation it seemed impossibly lavish.
How could it be anything else? Even a streamlined Coronation is all about an ascension to the throne.
You can’t actually do these things on the cheap.
Although it is fashionable to talk about slimming down the Royal Family, the truth is that skimping on the Coronation was always a bit of a non-starter.
You realised that when Charles was wrapped in the spectacular Imperial Mantle, the same gold robe the Queen wore in 1953.
It is made of silk, silver and gold and was first worn by King George IV in 1821.
In this egalitarian age, real efforts were made for this Coronation to be inclusive and on a more human scale.
Yet at its centre was a King wearing a golden crown.
At its heart was an event that believes it is literally being watched by God.
You can understand the instinct to dial down the splendour, especially in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
But you can’t wear a gold robe on a bicycle.
There is a place for gold carriages, precious robes and crowns that gleam and glitter with priceless jewels.
And the Coronation was it.
But this was something more than the greatest show on earth.
The day was an affirmation of the monarchy and a reminder — to the world and to ourselves — of who we are.
Yes, some things change out of all recognition over the course of a lifetime — our attitudes to divorce, diversity and deference.
But some things never change. And the Coronation was a reminder that — even now — the monarch is the ultimate symbol of our national identity.
How to explain the polls that insist King Charles III is already more popular than Prince Charles ever was?
I suspect it has a lot to do with the feelings we have for the institution of the monarchy.
The crown represents continuity, stability, identity.
A hereditary monarchy makes no rational sense in this groovy, egalitarian age. But it works for us.
Other nations exiled or executed their royal families centuries ago.
But the British persist, not out of a sense of deference but with an awareness of who we are as a people who are unconquered for 1,000 years, a nation who prefer the pot luck of a hereditary monarchy to the dreary certainty of what the head of state looks like in most nations.
Ich Dien, it says on Charles’s coat of arms. I serve. An old-fashioned concept.
And of course, King Charles lives a life of unimaginable privilege, a world of palaces, flunkies and wealth totally removed from the lives of his subjects.
But we still believe in the promise that our monarch is ultimately the servant of the people.
In the 70 years and 214 days of her reign, can anyone doubt that Queen Elizabeth II served this nation?
Perhaps one day we will stop believing in the promise. But not yet. And not with this King.
This story does not end. It was being told long before we were born.
It was already 500 years old when Henry VII sat on the throne.
Our nation will be telling the story long after we have all gone. None of us will live long enough to see how the story ends.
The Queen was the golden thread that held this nation together from the grim post-war years through the break-up of the British Empire to the creation of the Commonwealth to the diverse nation we became, and to Brexit and to Covid and beyond.
After reigning so long and so well, Elizabeth II is inevitably an impossible act to follow, not just for King Charles III but for all those kings and queens to come, some of them yet to be born.
Carried the weight of a thousand years
And the monarchy is a fragile thing. Could it have survived a King Andrew or King Harry, if the spares had been first-born? It seems unlikely.
But the British have been lucky in the national lottery of hereditary monarchy.
And when Charles waved from the balcony, you knew he would do exactly as his mother had done and honour the destiny he has waited for all his life.
He will serve.
And perhaps far better than we can yet imagine. If this King is never loved in quite the same way that his mother was loved — well, no monarch ever will be.
And although we tend to forget about it now, there were controversies and setbacks and blips even in the reign of our beloved Queen, not least when Princess Diana died.
We are all children of our time.
The Queen was a girl when World War Two began and a woman at its end.
Everything we loved about her — her resilience, her stoicism, her quiet, unfussy courage — were the distinguishing features of her wartime generation.
And although it felt like Charles carried the weight of one thousand years of history yesterday, he is a child of the Sixties in his ageing blood and bones.
Forever questioning, challenging, concerned about the planet we live on — an unlikely rebel whose life-long concerns about conservation, climate and the natural world chime perfectly with the priorities of the generation who were born this century.
Let nobody doubt that the heart of King Charles III is — like his crown — in exactly the right place.
Our people — his people — wish him well.