For some inexplicable reason, my mind has been flooded with thoughts about funeral planning this week. Phrases such as 'It's such a good feeling to have it all under control' and 'you can't buy it cheaper than that' keep emerging from my subconscious. Apparently, the best value is a certain co-operative concern who do a no frills job for under £2,000. A lot less than the energy price cap but still a sum to dent many a household budget.
With that figure in mind, it seemed interesting to explore the cost of the royal funeral which has been dominating our recent lives. According to Full Fact
, one of those excellent independent online fact checkers (not a favourite of disgraced ex-Prime Minister Johnson and others of his ilk), Queen Elizabeth's funeral willl cost around £8m. Or, rather, they cannot find evidence to support that figure but royal funerals have cost roughly that in the past.
Media speculation has put the price at anything from £8m to £6bn, which is quite a stretch. Full Fact
point out, however, that adding on the cost of King Charles' coronation plus two extra bank holidays makes accurate forecasting very uncertain. There are pointers from the past. In today's money, Princess Diana's funeral cost £7-8m; the Queen Mother's came in at £8.4m, Baroness Thatcher £3.8m. Prince Philip, because of Covid restrictions, was probably less expensive. So who will foot the bill for the royal departure? The State, of course, through the 'hard-working taxpayers' so beloved of Conservative governments.
The Queen's funeral has been planned since the 1960s with regular updates over the years. Code-named 'London Bridge', it has been meticulously scripted by government departments, the Met Police, the Army, the media, the Royal Parks, certain London boroughs, the GLA, and Transport for London. Wisely, there was a special 'Operation Unicorn' in case the Queen died in Scotland.
One of the first actions in the plan was a coded message to the Prime Minister – 'London Bridge is down' – a distinctly infelicitous selection of phrase. All this at a time when there is a fashionable rage for 'eco-friendly funerals' that are advertised at £800. Sheep roam the pastures above these funeral sites to keep the grass trimmed. King Charles has long espoused the green agenda but not, apparently, when it comes to his mother. She will take her rest in the St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle alongside her father and her husband in the Royal Vault.
Now, before I am arrested for a public order offence, I wish to make it clear that I am not against the monarchy. I merely question the fluctuations in royal actions – and their cost. And please do not mention the queue to view the coffin. As TV historian Dan Snow has pointed out, the thousands waiting to pay their respects could have been handled by a website with booking times. No queue, just an app. Forgive me if I question why that simple solution was not used.
But simple solutions do not seem to fit London Bridge and royal planning. As that great Roman, Lucius Cassius, put it: Cui Bono
? Certainly not the wee folk lining routes and waving flags.
It's been Christmas time for the shouties. In full throttle, from the studio, the palace, the castle, the park, the queue, night and day, hour by hour. From every news channel there poured a cascade of prattle masquerading as history in the making delivered with the utmost solemnity: voices lowered a notch or two; measured tones; grave countenances.
It's hardly surprising that there was an avalanche of repetition, although in a way the more seasoned presenters and pundits may be excused for managing to keep on having something – anything – to say without losing the power of speech. Quality suffered of course, as we heard again and again – and yet again – how significant everything was. 'Unprecedented' got a fair mention.
By way of contrast, the BBC Parliament channel showed continuous footage of the lying in state at Westminster Hall. There was no sign of parliamentary activity, but it was difficult to ignore the irony. Parliament! Home and base camp of shouties, the braying horde, champions and role models all. But no: for a few days the BBC Parliament channel captured one of the more memorable elements of the entire proceedings. A dignified hush prevailed, bordering on serenity, as many thousands shuffled forward, paused, and shuffled on, past the glittering crown, the scarlet and gold, the bearskins, swords and medals. A coming together of the ordinary everyday and glorious ceremonial formality: respectful, purposeful, inclusive.
Best of all, no running commentary. Peace in the swamp.
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