An Englishman in Latvia

On the coronation

May 07, 2023 Alan Anstead Season 1 Episode 13
On the coronation
An Englishman in Latvia
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An Englishman in Latvia
On the coronation
May 07, 2023 Season 1 Episode 13
Alan Anstead

On 6 May 2023, King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned King and Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in a coronation. How was this event marked in Latvia, and what does it mean for British-Latvian relations? I report from the British Ambassador’s coronation celebration at Latvia’s National Library. I make the official coronation dish at home in Rīga, albeit with a Latvian twist. We look at King Charles’ past visits to Latvia. And include some amusing stories on Britain and the coronation.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes Transcript

On 6 May 2023, King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned King and Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in a coronation. How was this event marked in Latvia, and what does it mean for British-Latvian relations? I report from the British Ambassador’s coronation celebration at Latvia’s National Library. I make the official coronation dish at home in Rīga, albeit with a Latvian twist. We look at King Charles’ past visits to Latvia. And include some amusing stories on Britain and the coronation.

Thanks for listening!

On the coronation

On Saturday 6 May, King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned King and Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth countries in a coronation. How was this event marked in Latvia, and what does it mean for British-Latvian relations? I was invited to the British Ambassador’s coronation celebration at Latvia’s National Library in Rīga, and I will tell you more about that event. I make the official coronation dish at home in Rīga, albeit with a Latvian twist. We look at King Charles’ past visits to Latvia. And include some amusing stories on Britain and the coronation.

First, some background. The last coronation, of Queen Elizabeth II, took place in 1953. Britain was a different place then. So too, was Latvia. An economic recovery after the Second World War was taking place. People were optimistic about the future after a dark period in history, although many food products were rationed. In 1953 the UK was predominantly Christian, and it was customary for most people to attend church on Sunday. Opinion polls in the 50s and 60s found that 86 - 91% of respondents said they were Christian. I was born in the 1960s, and that describes my upbringing. The picture is very different now, with the last official census finding that a minority of people in England and Wales identified as Christian. Attendance at Anglican Church services has dropped to less than 1% of the population. The coronation is a profoundly Anglican religious ceremony. However, King Charles introduced contemporary touches to the liturgy with multi-faith and multilingual elements - English, Welsh, Celtic and Irish.

The institution of the monarchy is still popular today in Britain, but not overwhelmingly so. In polls, many younger people say they prefer an elected head of state because fewer people accept a class system that gives a few people far more privilege than the majority. It may be greater awareness of the Royal Family’s past role in slavery and the bad parts of colonialism. It may also be support for Prince Harry and Megan and what they stood for in allegations against the Family, as the Royals are referred to. But British people love to have a party and share an experience. Many will watch the coronation on TV, go to a local street party or an event at a pub. Brands have jumped on the occasion with creative public relations. More on that later. In what has been a difficult last three years for many people in Britain, the coronation - despite the estimated cost of £100 million to the British taxpayer - is seen as a big moment. A historic day.

I, and my family, were invited to the British Ambassador’s celebration at Latvia’s National Library. It was an informal occasion and felt like a community gathering. The 200 or so participants had a connection to the UK: Brits and their families, Latvians working for British businesses in Latvia or the British-style private schools. The room was decked out in Union Jack flags and Royal bunting. The Ambassador gave a short speech at the beginning, large screens showed the live coronation, and there was food in a kind of British style with small sandwiches, sausage rolls and quiche, and drinks. Children were making paper crowns. When on the screens, Archbishop Welby placed the crown on King Charles’ head and said ‘God save the King’, there was a loud reply from everyone in that room at the National Library of ‘God save the King. I noticed that the carpets at Westminster Abbey were blue and yellow. Surely not a statement in support of Ukraine? No, it was just a happy diplomatic coincidence. The three hours of the coronation ceremony passed quickly.

A rather fitting community occasion for an important day in the history of the UK.

The King encourages people living in Britain to hold or join public events to celebrate the coronation. Nearly 4,500 public events, street parties and Big Lunches for neighbours and local communities were registered. On Sunday evening, there will be a coronation concert on the grounds of Windsor Castle.  And on Monday, The Big Help Out, a day of volunteering with local charities. In total, it is expected that there will be 15,000 - 20,000 events in the UK over the coronation weekend. A coronation anthem, ‘Make a Joyful Noise’, was composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber and is based on the verses from Psalm 98 in the Bible. Hummable at King Charles' request. There was an official coronation emblem. The emblem, which is featured on the tile to this episode, is created with the flora of the four nations of the United Kingdom: the rose for England, the thistle for Scotland, the daffodil for Wales and the shamrock for Northern Ireland. These natural forms combine to describe St Edward’s Crown, used for the coronation of British monarchs. The emblem was designed by the British former Apple designer Sir Jony Ive with his creative collective LoveFrom. The royal family have a dedicated emoji, based on St Edwards’ Crown, which appears if you use the hashtag #Coronation. Cool!

Businesses are loving the coronation. Retailers expect a ‘coronation effect’ sales boost as consumers stock up on party goods, including bunting (long strings of small triangular flags), champagne and food for the celebrations. The most popular food is quiche, scones, cakes, small pork pies and scotch eggs.

Whereas Queen Elizabeth II chose coronation chicken, a creamy chicken curry salad, as her signature coronation dish, Charles and Camilla chose coronation quiche. Yes, an egg tart originally from the Lorraine area of France. They hope it will be the centrepiece of the coronation big lunches being held nationwide. Buckingham Palace, the monarch's official residence, posted the recipe on the internet. Hmmm. As well as the pastry and egg, it includes spinach and broad beans. The Royal Family’s website described it as “a deep quiche with a crisp, light pastry case and delicate flavours of spinach, broad beans and fresh tarragon. Eat hot or cold with a green salad and boiled new potatoes – perfect for a Coronation Big Lunch!”

The king and queen chose the dish in conjunction with the royal chef, Mark Flanagan, who wrote the recipe, because it is good for sharing, can be served hot or cold, suits various dietary requirements and preferences, can be adapted, and is not too complicated or costly.

Cookery writers have given less praise. One said: “Does the coronation quiche live up to the beloved curried chicken salad? Well, it’s less original, less distinctive – but it’s also likely to be less divisive, which is exactly what the country needs right now. Whether anyone will remember it in 70 years is another matter.”

So I decided to make a Latvian version. I’m going to call it the British-Latvian Coronation Quiche. Here we go…….

I'm going to start by making the pastry. The oven's on at 200 degrees. Because this is a Latvian-British coronation quiche, I will use a more Latvian pastry, puff pastry, rather than shortcrust pastry. So I will fit this into the bowl, and the pastry will line the quiche's bottom and sides. And I will put it in the oven for about 10 minutes without filling. So it doesn't have a soggy bottom.

The oven's at 200 degrees. So I'm gonna pop the pastry base in there for 10 minutes. And while I'm doing that, I'm going to prepare some of the other ingredients. First, chop an onion. Let's get the frying pan out and just give the onion a bit of a fry-up in olive oil to make it softer.

And prepare the next bit. Some good Latvian ham. These are sliced, sort of two or three-millimetre slices. Nice size, and I'm going to cut it into strips. 100 grams or so of ham there.

And next, I'm going to prepare the cheese. And for this, I'm going to use Parito from Sierra Nams, which I hope is a rather nice hard Latvian cheese, and I'm going to grate it so it will form part of that creamy, cheesy mixture that's going to go into the quiche together with the onions and together with the ham pieces as well. About a hundred grams or so of the cheese.

The bowl's come out for the next stage: preparing the mixture. In the bowl, I’m going to crack two eggs. The timer just went, so let's take the puff pastry out. Then I've got to add about 200 grams of cream. I'm using this Krejums Exporta. Okay, that's looking nicely mixed. I'm going to add my cheese to that. Let's just pop it all in.

The last ingredient I will add to the mixture is a very Latvian one. Latvians tend to use this ingredient wherever they possibly can. The herb, dill. So let's chop up some dill to make this very much a British Latvian coronation quiche. Ham and onion mixture goes into my pastry base. And top it all off with the cheesy mixture and cream. And that's going into the oven for about 30 minutes.

There goes the timer. Let's take the quiche out of the oven. Tea's already brewed. British Latvian coronation quiche, fit for a king, sort of.

Two interesting stories I read in the UK press this last week. 

First story.

A Māori artist has designed a way for New Zealanders to avoid royal coverage with a web browser plugin that replaces all monarchy and coronation stories with indigenous news.

Despite the distance of 18,000 km from London, New Zealand is a Commonwealth country, and there has been much news coverage before the coronation. While King Charles remains New Zealand’s ceremonial head of state, Māori people never ceded sovereignty to the crown. 

For some, the fanfare and compulsive coverage have been grating. “People are sick of it – they don’t care about how much a diamond costs and who’s wearing what dress,” said Hāmiora Bailey, a Māori artist who created the plugin. “Across the globe, Indigenous folk are tired of rhetoric around frivolity and class.” The free download is called Pikari Mai! and allows users to “switch off the toff”. It uses data scraping to scan webpages for words and images related to the royals, then replaces those with articles linking to Indigenous news produced by Indigenous Māori outlets.

Second story.

Ten refugees from Ukraine are working at Kashket & Partners. This family-run business is contracted to provide military uniforms for the British armed forces and is responsible for creating all the uniforms for Saturday’s coronation parade. Eight thousand parade uniforms for the coronation, to be precise.

One of the workers, Olga Radchenko, who fled her home in the city of Dnipro and sought refuge and work in the UK, said, “When I escaped the war in Ukraine with my husband and two children, I had no idea that I would be playing a part in the coronation. I’m proud to be involved.” Olga Radchenko, a tailor, has been busy creating new uniforms for the Tower of London’s Yeoman Warders, known as the Beefeaters. “I showed photos to my family and told them I was making uniforms for the king’s army. They also felt proud. I’m very happy to be working here.”

Brands in the UK have been newsjacking the coronation, hijacking a news story for some publicity. Here are a few of the best ones.

Uber, an online taxi service like Bolt in Latvia, offered a bookable carriage pulled by four white horses around Dulwich Park in London (the park is familiar from my childhood - I was born not far away in Peckham). Sold out, I never managed to find out the cost of this very slow ride in a circle.

Burger King offered a BOGOF deal. Buy one chicken or vegan royale sandwich and get one free. That got lots of media coverage in fast food-obsessed tabloid media.

Mars made a life-sized bust of King Charles entirely in chocolate. It does look realistic, if a little, erh, strange!

Rightmove, a real estate agency, was advertising four castles for sale that were fit for a king. If you have a spare £8 million, of course!

PG Tips, who sell tea, worked with music producer, Tarek Musa, to recreate the National Anthem ‘God Save The King’ using the sounds of tea making, from a boiling kettle to a tinkling spoon. You can hear it on this podcast!

And last of all on my list is Lego. The children’s bricks manufacturer. They built a very lifelike Lego coronation. Thirty-two thousand pieces took over 1,000 hours with a team of six people to make the scene. Dedication.

What has the coronation got to do with Latvia? In 2019, Statista estimated that there were 2,985 British Citizens in Latvia. I believe that number decreased significantly after Latvia applied residence permit regulations from January 2021, and there was the pandemic. The British Royal Family have visited many times. I described Prince Andrew’s visit in my first episode. King Charles has visited Riga twice. His first visit was in 1995. He opened the British Embassy, laid flowers at the Freedom Monument, strolled around the old town and met the then-Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis. His second visit was in 2001, a more extended visit with a new Latvian President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. This visit became front page news for the wrong reasons when the Latvian Russian political activist Alina Lebedeva slapped Prince Charles across the face with red carnation flowers at the Freedom Monument. She was 16 at the time and protesting the Afghanistan war. She forgot to mention this until later when the police bundled her away. She was subsequently interviewed by The Guardian newspaper and said, "I've got no idea what his views are on the war. I saw him just as a representative for Britain". Prince Charles privately admitted that the incident had "frightened me rigid". However, he made a plea for leniency, and the charge was dropped from assaulting a foreign dignitary to hooliganism. Lebedeva was sentenced to unspecified educational measures and put under her mother's supervision for one year. She gained the nickname 'Alina Carnation'. She did later set fire to the door at the Ministry of Education as a protest against schools being forced to teach in Latvian, and she stood for election as a Member of the European Parliament for the Motherland party in 2009. She subsequently renounced politics, but she does have her own Wikipedia page due to her activism!

Queen Elizabeth also visited Latvia with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 2006. For a small country, Latvia has had quite a few royal visits.

I asked the British Ambassador, Paul Brummell CMG, what he thought about the importance of the coronation for British-Latvian relations.

Me: Ambassador, could you tell me about the coronation's significance to Anglo-Latvian relations?

Ambassador: Well I think I've been really delighted to see the way that the UK Royal Family are held in such high esteem here in Latvia. Everyone remembers the state visit of Her Late Majesty but also His Majesty has visited Latvia on two occasions. In 1995 he came to reopen the embassy building in Riga and he came back again in 2001 for a really in-depth visit where he went not only to Riga but also visited Daugavpils. So he's shown a great deal of interest and fascination for Latvia. And when looking at the coronation it was wonderful to see that there are actually some Baltic connections in the amazing proceedings that we're seeing today. So the coronation chair, Edward's chair, was actually fashioned 700 years ago from Baltic Oak.

Me: It’s fascinating. I didn't know that. And do you think that King Charles might visit Latvia in the future, given Latvia's strategic position at the moment?

Ambassador: Well, Latvia and the UK are close friends, close partners, and every resident British ambassador would, of course, love a visit from His Majesty. I suspect he has quite a long list of places he will need to visit, but I very much hope Latvia will be there at some point.

Me: Thank you, Ambassador.

Overall, the coronation will be viewed by most people as a great event. Britain is good at ceremony and pomp. People had their big party, and there was a strong community spirit. However, having a monarchy, exempt from some laws and viewed as rather secretive, is divisive for some people, especially the younger generation. The monarchy may need to change and adapt to the present era. Maybe King Charles is the best person to do that. The coronation was all about religion and ancient rituals. But King Charles made some important updates to the rituals that have been in place since 973. The coronation ceremony fascinates people. I can see why. It is part of Britain’s history and culture.

Whether one is a monarchist, a republican or just agnostic about the issue, royal fairy dust can make a difference. When I was a diplomat in Latvia in the second half of the 1990s, I had my warrant as a diplomat - a long parchment signed by Queen Elizabeth - framed and mounted behind my desk at the Embassy. It became a talking point with my Latvian visitors and guests. And my opposite number at the American Embassy was intensely jealous!

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